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Friday 3 June 2011

Mitt Minds His Back

[Updates at end of post]

The competition for the Republican nomination to contest the 2012 Presidential Election became significantly more serious yesterday in upstate New Hampshire as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney declared himself to be running. If you were to open the box marked “identikit male GOP candidate”, the contents would look like Romney. On the face of it, he’s the complete package.

Romney set out his stall with an attack on the economy. Yes, it’s still the economy, stupid: not only is this the concern of many Americans, but also the kind of arena in which Romney can make headway, something he can’t do on foreign affairs (not after the removal of Osama bin Laden), or health care, after his actions as Governor.

But he faced tricky questioning from the start: the key GOP argument, for a smaller Government spending less, sits uneasily with his use of Bittersweet Farm as the backdrop for his campaign announcement: the farm has received around $1 million in federal aid in recent years.

And, although he aimed his criticisms squarely at Barack Obama, Romney will know that the biggest challenge may well come from his own side of the aisle: already, former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has passed adverse comment on his health care reform in Massachusetts.

Moreover, there is already a group mobilising to “stop Romney”, the idea behind it being that Romney is not sufficiently anti-Government for the likes of the Tea Partiers. One saving grace for Mitt is that the group is fronted by former Senate hopeful Joe Miller, beaten by Lisa Murkowski in Alaska in the first Senate write-in victory for over half a century, and a very, very bad loser.

And there’s one more problem for Romney, even if he manages to placate Palin and the Tea Partiers: his religious preference. Those of us in the UK who aren’t fussed about such details would not be concerned that he is a Mormon, as is another potential GOP candidate, Jon Huntsman. Big deal. But Romney getting elected would be another JFK moment: he would be the first.

All this, of course, has to be fought through before Romney gets to contest the Presidency with Barack Obama. Remember, last time round he lost out to John McCain. Watch out for those first Primaries, folks.

[UPDATE 1: A new poll suggests there is still a significant negative perception among voters of any Mormon candidate, especially among those categorised as "White Evangelicals". That could be bad news for Romney and Huntsman]

[UPDATE 2: Romney has now gone against the usual GOP line on climate change, saying "I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that". Not something that one could imagine the likes of Sarah Palin saying, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the GOP hopefuls respond]

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