Mitt Romney, the perpetual but under-appreciated frontrunner in the GOP presidential nomination race, narrowly sidestepped a loss in Iowa to Rick Santorum. Now he is moving to New Hampshire, a state which should be comparatively easier to win because fewer social conservatives live there. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) certainly seems to think so. He said simply of Romney, “He's going to win in New Hampshire.”
I tend to agree with the common wisdom that Romney is in good shape in New Hampshire, but only if he continues to observe a simple lesson that has ruled this campaign cycle: Don't be a whiner. Especially in the upcoming debate.
Look at some of the losers in Iowa, and Newt Gingrich is a prime example. Days before the caucuses, he essentially gave up, saying that the negativity directed at him was overwhelming and that he would not win. He later blamed Romney explicitly, saying that rather than feeling swift-boated, he felt “Romney-boated.” Even his campaign spokesperson, R.C. Hammon got involved by tweeting, "What would have happened to Mitt in Iowa if 45% of the ads were on Mitt's pro-abortion past?"
The other candidates were equally surly about their losses. Jon Huntsman said, “They pick corn in Iowa. They pick presidents in New Hampshire.” I guess it's bad that he's only polling at around 7% in New Hampshire as well.
Texas Governor Rick Perry claimed that the state was quirky and that Democrats were voting during the caucuses. First, the claim that Democrats voted during the primaries seems hard to believe, and even if they were, “real” Republicans wouldn't be any more helpful to Perry. If they had been voting, they would have probably favored Santorum anyway.
What I find so interesting is that in ordinary, everyday life, someone who pouts after losing a basketball game or cries foul when they are defeated at a board game would not be seen as leadership-worthy. The same surely applies to candidates, but for some reason, telltale signs of below-average underlying character traits are treated differently, as if the candidates get a pass for being larger than life. They're candidates. But it adds up, people begin to get the notion that Gingrich is a quitter and a spoilsport and that Perry is arrogant and out of touch.
Romney so far has stayed above the negativity (or perhaps he had so much money that he was the only one dishing it out). Only 1-in-5 ads in Iowa attacked him, whereas roughly half attacked Gingrich. This may change, both on the airways and on the debating floor.
First, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is not afraid to go after other candidates on TV and might turn his attention to Romney and play spoiler (though time is running out for this) and second, the debate on Sunday is likely to attract jabs from just about everyone still in the race. Karl Rove said that the “former Massachusetts governor should prepare to be the piñata at Saturday's debate in Manchester.”
The best response for Romney is to not get angry, as he did when Perry riled him in some of the earlier debates last year. People don't want to elect a whiner for their nominee, and even if a Romney slip up didn't sink him with Republican primary goers, it certainly won't help him against Obama.
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