Mitt Romney's bad week

Seven days ago, he was looking at virtually tying up the US Republican Party nomination with victory in South Carolina and moving on to Florida for the coronation. But then things started to go wrong.


    It’s been a bad week for Mitt Romney. Seven days ago, he was looking at virtually tying up the Republican Party nomination with victory in South Carolina and moving on to Florida for the coronation.

    But then things started to go wrong.

    He discovered he didn’t actually win the first contest in Iowa. A recount of the votes handed victory to his rival Rick Santorum. His performances in the latest two candidate debates in this process, where he has been steady if unaccomplished, looked shaky and uncertain. Asked if he would release details of his tax returns, he joked and dodged and avoided, leaving many people to question what he was trying to hide. He said if he received the nomination, he would release them then. That didn’t go down well – so he suggested he’d release them when they were completed, which would be in April. The demands still persist that he release them now.

    Then he watched as a significant opinion poll lead in South Carolina disappeared in 72 hours to hand a stunning victory to former House speaker, Newt Gingrich. His loss of around 11 points once again raises serious questions about Romney’s ability to win over large swathes of his own party.

    And so, Romney is now campaigning in Florida. He has a healthy lead there but as we’ve seen that can quickly change.

    Yet there are many reasons why there is no need for the Romney campaign to panic.

    It is well funded and well organised in Florida, much more so than Newt Gingrich or his other two rivals. That’s important because while the first three contests are about what they call retail politics - shaking hands and meeting voters face to face - Florida is so large that the best way to get a message across is TV ads. And it is one of the most expensive states in the country in which to buy airtime. 

    Then there is the election timetable. After Florida on January 21st, the contests that follow should favour Romney. There is Nevada on February 4th and Arizona on the 28th. Both have huge Mormon populations, which many expect will largely back one of their own. There is also the vote in Michigan on the 28th, which is the state where Romney was born and grew up, where his father was governor and where he won in 2008.

    And there are the national polls, which suggest in a straight match up with President Barack Obama, he would do better than any other candidate.  Although if the election was tomorrow, the polls say he still wouldn’t win.

    Here’s the worrying thing for him and his campaign - the rapid disappearance of so many supporters suggests that Romney’s backing is soft. He remains vulnerable to attacks on aspects of his past and people still aren’t convinced that his work for an investment firm didn’t lead to the loss of many jobs while he was lining his own pockets.  

    Romney has to change his tactics for Florida. We saw that in his speech to supporters in South Carolina. He will go on the offensive against Newt Gingrich. He won’t leave it for spokesmen or prominent supporters, he’ll do it himself. He will try to rid himself of the tax issue quickly and painlessly. And he will highlight the well-know personal issues that surround the man who is now clearly his main rival. Which all means that a contest that has been rough and unpredictable up until this moment will become even more so. And it also means that this is a race that is far from over.

    Follow Alan on twitter throughout the election campaign @alanfisher



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