At the back-to-back debates in New Hampshire last weekend, it looked as though Mitt Romney's challengers had been consigned to defeat. As Huntsman, Paul, and Santorum jockeyed for second place, Romney could have joined Perry on the side of the stage for a nap.
But that's not the case now. Realizing that South Carolina may be their last stand, the other candidates are exploiting every chance to slow down Romney’s momentum as the race moves south.
A 27-minute television ad sponsored by Gingrich-supporting super PAC “Winning Our Future” has the highest probability of injuring the front-runner’s chances of a clean sweep in the primaries. The ad paints Romney as an out-of-touch corporate raider ready to take over the country and steal Americans’ money. As Time’s James Poniewozik points out, “Holy crap, is it vicious.”
Although Democrats have been saving their Bain attacks for the fall, the National Democratic Committee didn't skip out entirely on the fun; it has repeatedly called Romney a “job cremator” all week.
These attacks hit Romney where it hurts most—his economic record. They come in the wake of revelations (or, more accurately, as reminders) about Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, during which many a company was hurt by the investment firm even as Bain continued to reap profits. Despite the momentary sting of these attacks, they couldn’t come at a better time for Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney is going to win the GOP primary. The contingent of Romney-haters in the Republican Party is overstated, and most Republicans find Romney perfectly acceptable, as John Sides notes. And, the more primaries Romney wins—like today's in New Hampshire—the more support he’ll amass as other candidates drop out and allegiances shift. The opposition that Romney faces is less formidable now than it will be in the fall, which is why having the Bain attacks start now is good for Romney and not so good for Democrats, who have been treasuring their stash of Romney dirt like a golden ticket to a second Obama term. Calling Mitt Romney a flip-flopper is a weak attack at this point in his political career—we heard that charge in 2008. After South Carolina, the Democrats will be unable to top the Bain attack, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz has already overextended the effectiveness of her linchpin “job cremator” line.
The attack that Republicans falsely hope is their last chance at the nomination, and that Democrats think is their best line of defense to stay in the White House, is going to end up being little more than a blip on Romney’s radar. Unless they want to waste all of their ammo, Democrats should debut the rest of their economic-based Romney attacks after the conventions.