With a victory in Florida’s key primary within striking distance, Mitt Romney can look ahead to a favorable series of contests, but with rival Newt Gingrich wounded and angry, the path is replete with pitfalls.
A commanding lead in Florida’s polls could mean Romney exiting the Sunshine State with the aura of the presumptive nominee as the race spreads out to a series of rapid-fire votes in geographically and culturally distinct states.
With seven states voting in the next four weeks, Romney’s vast cash war-chest and deep political organization could come to the fore as political battles are fought on multiple fronts.
“A person like Romney who has a lot of money and a good organization can take a slow and steady action across a number of primaries,” said Michael Traugott, a political communications professor at the University of Michigan.
But the specifics of each race could also help the former Massachusetts governor.
Even though he came in third in the 2008, Romney won five of the next seven states to vote this year.
In Nevada, where caucus goers vote on Saturday, Romney can bank on the strong support of Mormons, who make up more than 10 percent of the population and by-in-large vote Republican.
His membership in the the church of Latter Day Saints will also bring with it a support network and donor base that will be the envy of other candidates.
Romney’s campaign is already began coaching caucus-goers to make the case for the candidate and the campaign architecture is in place. In 2008 Romney won the state with 51 percent of the vote.
On the same day the Maine caucus will begin, which Romney won handily in 2008.
It is a similar story in Minnesota and Colorado — which Romney won in 2008 with a thumping 60 percent of the vote.
Missouri where Romney finished third in 2008, is a non-binding vote, and so will be little more than a beauty contest.
Later in February the race goes to Romney’s native state, Michigan and Arizona — which may offer the next true test of his ability to take on or co-opt Tea Party conservatives.
But throughout these states, Romney will face a hail of brickbats from Gingrich, whose attacks seem to intensify the worse he is doing in the polls.
“Our job going forward is to make sure that we can tell the truth faster and more efficiently than he can buy time to lie about our record,” Gingrich spokesman RC Hammond told AFP, describing the path forward.
For the next month Gingrich will continue to hit Romney, while staying alive and keep funding going long enough to take the race to his home territory in the South and maybe cause a few upsets on the way, his campaign says.
“Our job is to out last him well into the Spring and tell the truth of what he has done as governor and how that projects what he has done as president to make sure people know what they are getting.”
“Our job is to be louder and quicker.”
The Gingrich campaign readily admits that it will have a tough time competing in places like Nevada were it has a “good, but not great” ground operation.
But in states like Arizona, where there has been a ground swelling of conservative activism in recent years, Gingrich hope for a win.
Romney will struggle “in states like Arizona where our Tea Party core of the party is not going to show up to support somebody who is a Massachusetts liberal,” said Hammond.
“I wouldn’t want to be him and have to close in states that are actually very conservative to their core, I would like to be the one who has to go through Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.”
In the meantime Romney will need to limit the impact of the Gingrich’s attacks for fear he could head to November’s general election mortally wounded.
“The give and take, especially through the debates has provided unbelievable fodder to the Democrats, not just in terms of little tape clips but in thematic terms too,” said the University of Michigan’s Traugott.
“Romney will be able to revive his image most easily among Republicans, but he’ll have a harder time among independents.”