Though on Defense, Romney Marches Toward Nomination

Though on Defense, Romney Marches Toward Nomination

By Erin McPike - January 18, 2012

Mitt Romney has only won the first two nominating contests in the Republican presidential primary, but he's poised to claim victory in South Carolina on Saturday, which could put him on the cusp of securing the nomination in what has been an abbreviated primary from start to finish.

The RealClearPolitics polling average of the South Carolina GOP race -- with data through Monday -- shows the former Massachusetts governor leading his closest challenger, Newt Gingrich, by 10.3 percentage points.

And yet, once again he’s on defense. His competitors continue to test his mettle, with Gingrich and Rick Santorum escalating their attacks on the front-runner.

In response, Romney’s super PAC, Restore Our Future, is pouring money into advertising in the Palmetto State to weaken Santorum. Wednesday morning, two top Romney surrogates -- former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent and former New York Rep. Susan Molinari -- will host a conference call to discuss “Speaker Gingrich’s record as an unreliable leader.” The tactic is an unspoken admission that Gingrich may be on the rise, and it’s a move the campaign used effectively after the former House speaker surpassed Romney in national polls late last year. (The former Georgia congressman got a boost Tuesday night when Sarah Palin said that if she were a South Carolinian, she would vote for Gingrich. Palin’s husband, Todd, endorsed him prior to the New Hampshire primary.)

The Democratic National Committee has kept up a relentless stream of attacks on the man it expects to be the GOP nominee. Each day, the DNC uses social networks to circulate a new Web video that splices together awkward Romney moments or comments he’s made -- the most recent being several long pauses in responses concerning whether he’ll release his tax returns. The committee went one step further Tuesday, asking voters to use Twitter to offer their guesses about “what Mitt Romney is hiding” when he hedges on the release of those records. The tactic actually piggybacks on a Fox News suggestion during Monday night’s debate that voters tweet whether candidates “dodged” or “answered” the questions posed to them.

The DNC is also deploying state party organizations to make its case in a number of swing states, hoping to draw coverage from local media and tarnish Romney’s brand. The Michigan Democratic Party, for example, noted Tuesday that Romney’s father, George, not only released his tax returns when he sought the White House more than 40 years ago, but may have been the first presidential contender to do so.

The party cited a November 1967 article in the St. Joseph Gazette, which noted: "Many presidential candidates in the past have disclosed their net assets, stock holdings and other financial data which might relate to the public trust. But Romney [is] believed the first to make his income tax returns public -- including his annual wages, dividends, interest, capital gains and other compensation."

It’s not an inconsequential issue. When a new political reality (in some corners, at least) pits the “99 percent” of wage earners in the country against the wealthy “1 percent” -- or 1-percenters, as the New York Times dubbed them in a front-page story over the weekend -- Mitt Romney may suffer for his wealth.

Nevertheless, one by one, candidates have decided not to run or have bowed out of the race, and they’ve marched, by and large, toward Romney. John Thune, the senator from South Dakota, opted not to enter the fray after indirect verbal skirmishes with Romney’s campaign, and he recently endorsed the front-runner. Tim Pawlenty tussled with Romney during his short-lived campaign but backed him shortly after withdrawing from the race. Conservatives courted Chris Christie to mount a last-minute bid, but he resisted -- and endorsed Romney in short order.

Jon Huntsman created a few headaches for Romney in New Hampshire, but even given the brittle relationship the two men have, the former Utah governor endorsed his rival upon exiting the race.

And a number of conservative pundits have come to his defense, even some who had admonished him or predicted his failure. Rush Limbaugh harangued Gingrich for needling Romney’s past in private equity, and even though Ann Coulter said at a Washington forum last year that if the GOP didn’t “run Chris Christie,” the party would nominate Romney and lose, she has since offered her support to Romney. The influential and conservative Club for Growth, which had previously been a thorn in Romney’s side, is working to shield him from attacks.

All of that backing is serving to soften the blows Romney is taking from the left and the right as he continues what has been a bumpy but quick ride toward the nomination. 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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