Mark Halperin in the new issue of TIME on why Romney’s stock is way up—but not a sure thing.
What phrase best describes Mitt Romney’s strategy?
Playing possum. Overexposure is the normal mode for someone who wants to beat an incumbent President, but Romney has lain low for months. Behind the scenes, he has traveled widely, meeting with potential supporters, collecting campaign cash and only rarely appearing before cameras. Romney’s aides believe that keeping him out of the line of fire from the left and the right will allow him to enter 2012 as he entered 2011 — as the unquestioned front runner for the nomination. Some old pros, previously dubious about Romney’s chances, are now saying more admiringly, “Fear the possum.”
Why is he so far ahead of his rivals?
Two numbers tell the story. First, Romney’s fundraising haul for the first half of the year is likely to be more than that of all the other contenders combined. Second, a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Romney narrowly beating Barack Obama in a general-election matchup — the only Republican to do so. The possum strategy works best when the media train their attention on noncandidates and long shots such as Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann. That has cut off oxygen to Romney’s real rivals, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman.
So is he a lock for the nomination?
Romney has two indisputable problems [EM] and a big question mark. Many rival strategists believe that as soon as Republicans start confronting Romney on his Massachusetts health care law (complete with its Obama-style individual mandate), he will be deemed unacceptable by GOP voters. And questions persist about his personality. He is described as having difficulty relating to voters or, more harshly, as a phony. Finally, as the candidates shift from denunciations of the President to attacks on one another, we will learn whether the polished, oft uptight Romney can take a punch.