Romney in Search of a Finish

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, campaigns with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, center, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., right, at Exeter High School in Exeter, N.H., Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012.

EXETER, NEW HAMPSHIRE—Pope Pious Baloney (or as his supporters call him, Mitt Romney) steamed into Exeter High School yesterday evening at the end of an uncharacteristically bad day. In the morning, his Republican rivals had finally gotten it together to go after him for the first time in umpteen debates. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich had called him out for his protestations that his had not been a politician’s career, arguing that his choosing not to run for re-election as governor of Massachusetts was not about his desire to return to the private sector but the result of atrocious polling. (Of course, Santorum and Gingrich were themselves both bounced from their elected positions.) Jon Huntsman, whose old-line moderate Republicanism makes him a threat to Romney from the left, also had his first good debate moments, attacking Romney’s disparagement of his serving as Barack Obama’s ambassador to China as the kind of partisanship that was dragging America down.
 
Worse still for Romney, the daily Suffolk University tracking poll had support for him sliding down to 35 percent, a decline that had been going on for three successive days. In the poll, Ron Paul had risen to 19 percent and Huntsman to 11. Both Paul and Huntsman are drawing support from independents, who can vote in either party’s primary on Tuesday.  Gingrich and Santorum lag behind.
 
If Romney wins no more than 30 percent of the vote on Tuesday, his momentum will clearly be slowed. Forty percent and he’s still a juggernaut.  Thirty-five percent and there will be no undisputed interpretation of his victory.
 
The rally in Exeter was his largest in the state thus far, but by the standards of the Obama and Hillary Clinton rallies of four years ago, it was still rather small—perhaps 450 people packed into a high-school gym.  Even by the standards of modern politics, Romney rallies are remarkably substance-free. Romney introduced his family and told the crowd that Obama, though a good man, lacked a passion for the founding principles of the nation and favored an entitlement society, not a meritocracy based on hard work. He then introduced New  Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who’d come up to New Hampshire to campaign for Romney.
 
This was odd. Normally, a prestigious, visiting endorser speaks first and then introduces the candidate. Romney reversed the order in what may have been a tacit acknowledgement that Christie is a much more rousing speaker than he. (I was reminded of the 2000 Democratic primary in New Hampshire, when the deadly dull Bill Bradley was accompanied around the state by Paul Wellstone, a dynamo on the stump. After Wellstone had spoken and revved up the crowds, Bradley began speaking and generally lost the crowd’s attention by the middle of his third sentence.)
 
Christie bounded to the front of the stage and began assailing Obama for giving up on America’s capacity to resume economic growth. “He believes the pie isn’t getting bigger,” Christie said, and so the task before government is to cut it up differently—a redistributionist vision. By contrast, he continued, “Mitt Romney believes the size of the American pie is infinite!”
 
Friends might tell Christie to lose the pie metaphor.
 
Romney’s events in the campaign’s closing days don’t include interaction with his crowds. Unlike Huntsman, Gingrich, Santorum, and sometimes Paul, most surely unlike McCain, Obama, and Clinton four years ago, he doesn’t say much and he doesn’t take questions. Of late, he’s taken to closing his remarks by quoting lines from “America the Beautiful.” Going personal—recounting a revelatory anecdote, as some candidates do—is clearly beyond him, as is anything remotely resembling eloquence.  He’s a banker out of his element on the stump, grasping for homilies and clichés to guide him off the state. Pious baloney, indeed.

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