Mark Halperin’s answers this week in TIME.
“What’s driving all the negative news coverage of Mitt Romney?”
To most of the activists and news junkies dialed into the battle for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Romney is simply the sum of his negative parts: no ability to relate to people (harsher critics say “phony”); a bevy of altered positions on issues such as abortion and guns (harsher critics say “flip-flopper”); and the albatross of a Massachusetts universal health care program, which he signed into law in April 2006, complete with a mandate that individuals purchase insurance (harsher critics say “Romneycare equals Obamacare”). By operating under the radar since his 2008 campaign, Romney hasn’t done much to silence his detractors with a new narrative.
“What makes him the front runner?”
In a weak field where other candidates will struggle to raise money, increase their name recognition and find early states to win, Romney should have none of those problems. His campaign (which will remain low key for several weeks) has given oodles of PAC money to GOP candidates and state parties and won chits in return.
“What is his strategy to win the nomination?”
Romney’s not blowing away the competition in national polls, but in some key-state surveys he’s ahead. Unlike his approach in 2008, when he tried to capture the early contests and bring a quick end to the competition (and failed), his plan now is to wend his way to victory, downplaying Iowa’s caucuses, dominating New Hampshire and Nevada, surviving South Carolina and then using Florida as a springboard to “inevitable.” His strategy is more war of attrition than knockout punch. He will cast himself as a responsible grownup who knows how to create jobs. But if he wins the nomination — and he remains the oddsmakers’ favorite — he will win it ugly.