So with Huckabee still with a tough road ahead of him, is Mitt Romney the big winner after this weekend?
It would have been nice for Romney to walk out of the FRC summit as the consensus pick. With the endorsements from social conservative leaders that he’s lining up, he just needed the rank-and-file to confirm their leaders’ preferences. But the rank-and-file probably has more love for Huckabee at this stage in the game.
(Nancy, a Romney-supporting Campaign Spot reader, wrote in to note that while she attended the summit, she voted online, as did several others in her group. I suspect a lot of Romney backers feel like the FRC organizers have made their overall win seem “less legit” by releasing the results of the online and in-person vote results differently. Having said that, how many Romney supporters could possibly have attended the summit and voted online? Anywhere near enough to make Huckabee’s 51 percent look less impressive? I’m skeptical.)
Still, as long as Romney holds onto his leads in Iowa and New Hampshire, and he can loan as much money to his campaign as he wishes, the former governor has as much a shot at this nomination as anybody else.
Let me share a scenario laid out for me by a Romney backer after the most recent fundraising numbers came out:#more#
Romney leads in Iowa; if somebody comes on strong, he can spend a half-million on advertising in the state touting himself and a half-million going negative on whoever’s the biggest threat to his lead. Same thing in New Hampshire. Neither of those states are relatively expensive to run advertising in, and so he can get a lot of bang for his bucks. Then he can move on to South Carolina, and once again, run plenty of positive ads, and run plenty of negative ads if necessary. (Also, depending on where Michigan is in this process, he should have another early win, or at least a strong finish.) Right now, all of Romney’s rivals will have variously limited resources. Giuliani and maybe Thompson can punch back. Maybe if McCain’s matching funds come in, he’ll be able to run a limited ad campaign. But it’s unlikely anyone else will be able to keep up.
And right now, Romney’s the only one with the resources to really put a significant campaign on the airwaves on Super Duper Tuesday.
Now ads and money alone can’t elect a candidate. And it’s possible that we’ve seen Romney’s high-water mark, or that he never really catches fire beyond the two early primary states. But if this primary campaign were a poker game, Romney would be the man holding a pretty strong hand and a big stack of chips.