Romney’s debate “gaffe” is not likely to have a major impact on the race for the GOP nomination.
It is already being used by Rick Perry et al against the very wealthy Romney as evidence that the former Massachusetts Governor is out of touch with the concerns of middle class voters. But it is not news that Romney is an incredibly wealthy man and relatively minor debate gaffes do not move voters in a significant way even if they become the stuff of late night comics. And another (!) debate this week will shift attention away from Romney the betting man.
The bigger threat to Romney is the current enthusiasm behind his newest chief rival, Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker’s rise from the political grave has been so quick that he hasn’t been able to put down significant organizational roots in the early states. Despite this he is rising, rapidly, in the polls and now poses a threat to Romney in South Carolina and Florida and is closing in on Mitt in New Hampshire.
Can he cash in on all of this? It will be difficult, for two reasons.
First, the Romney counter attack is only one week old. I suspect it will get louder and more aggressive. While it will do little to shake up the race in Iowa, it can have a significant impact in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida, the latter two in particular where campaigns will be much more dependent on traditional media and advertisements. Gingrich’s meteoric rise in Florida is likely to be met with a barrage in due course.
Second, organization, a drum I’ve been beating for some time. Organization is not a magic bullet. A well-organized candidate without a message or enthusiasm is not going to succeed. Similarly, a candidate bereft of a strong organization can win if the enthusiasm is there. Recall Mike Huckabee in Iowa in 2004. But Gingrich can’t just win Iowa, he’s got to move voters in all the early states and he doesn’t have the apparatus to do so. At least not yet. And time is running out.
Michael Levenson’s piece in today’s Boston Globe profiled the Gingrich camp’s newly hired New Hampshire state director, Andrew Hemingway, who notes:
“I’ve never run a campaign before’’ . . . “I’ve never been part of a presidential campaign. So I don’t even know what these guys have done before. I don’t know. So I’m just doing what makes sense to me.’’
It remains to be seen if this makes sense to primary electorates. That’s the real $10,000 question.