The Campaign Spot

Romney: The Weakest Candidate, Except for All the Others

In the first Morning Jolt of the week, a look at John Hinckley Jr.’s desire to be seen as more than just a would-be assassin; a zany, but supremely unlikely choice for the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, and then the latest state of play…

Hope You Didn’t Have Plans for Spring: Our Long Haul Gets Longer

I’m actually going to express a bit of skepticism of the theme of the big New York Times story this Sunday:

Whether Mitt Romney wins or loses the Michigan and Arizona primaries on Tuesday, his advisers are warning donors and other supporters to prepare for a longer, more bruising and more expensive fight for the Republican presidential nomination that may not be settled until at least May.

That is prompting a new round of intensified fund-raising by his financial team, which had hoped by this point to be collecting money for a general election match with President Obama. The campaign is increasingly trying to quell anxiety among Republican leaders, while intently focusing on the mechanics of accumulating delegates needed to secure the nomination.

Mr. Romney’s aides said they were confident their sustained attacks portraying Rick Santorum as a Washington insider, and Mr. Santorum’s shaky debate performance in Arizona on Wednesday, had slowed their rival’s recent surge here in Michigan.

Yes, losing Michigan would be disastrous for Romney. But here are the last four polls: Santorum by 3, Romney by 2, Romney by 3, Romney by 6. He’s solidly ahead in Arizona, which is winner-take-all.  So Romney is probably coming out of Tuesday with all 29 of Arizona’s delegates and about 16 out of Michigan’s 30. His strongest challenger of the moment, Rick Santorum, will probably finally break double digits and have about 18-20 total delegates; Romney will have about 118.

Then it’s into Super Tuesday, where Romney will probably be the lone candidate capable of being on-air in every state. He doesn’t need to win Georgia; Gingrich can and should win there. He’ll have a one-on-one fight with Ron Paul in Virginia. He’s got his home state of Massachusetts. He should be at least competitive in the caucus states of Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota because of his campaign’s organizational skills. (He won the only binding caucus so far in Nevada and nearly won Iowa.) Ohio will be the big showdown. He should be competitive or a winner in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Vermont.

In other words, he’s not likely to land a bunch of knockout punches, but he’s going to finish with the biggest pile of delegates, week after week. Santorum, Gingrich, and Ron Paul can declare that they’re in until the convention, and they’ll continue to get delegates in dribs and drabs (keep in mind, quite a few states have minimum thresholds to receive any delegates, and in some states, if a candidate wins more than 50 percent, they’re automatically given all delegates, a sort-of super-bonus threshold). But how far back can a candidate fall and remain competitive? Keep in mind, at this point, semi-frontrunner Santorum was won 15.9 percent of all votes and is last in terms of delegates. Ron Paul, who was supposedly pursuing this shrewd, delegate-based strategy, has 9 delegates and 11.4 percent of the votes cast so far. Newt Gingrich, who has the second-highest total of votes and delegates (29), has won only one state.

Mitt Romney’s position as frontrunner looks weak, until you look at the path and obstacles facing all of his rivals.

Oh, and one other point to note widely: Mark it: “Prices rise above $5 for a gallon of premium gas at a Shell station at Olympic Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, California February 21, 2012.”

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