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Team Romney's Dilemma

Mitt Romney speaks at 2011 CPAC.(Chet Susslin)

December 7, 2011

Mitt Romney's campaign is facing a strategic dilemma: Go for the kill against Newt Gingrich now, and hope Romney can overtake him in Iowa. Or prepare for a long-lasting Republican nomination fight that could result in defeat.

Both strategies involve a significant amount of uncertainty and risk.  

If Romney avoids attacking Gingrich for now -- and hope the media or other GOP candidates go after him -- Gingrich could get a head of steam, winning Iowa, coming close in New Hampshire and then winning the Southern states of South Carolina and Florida that neighbor his home state of Georgia.

Engage Gingrich now, however, and Romney forces himself to go all-in in a state that's not favorable demographically for him, risking an embarrassing setback and expending valuable resources to do so.  Most importantly, he's almost running out of time to deliver a knockout message -- no matter how effective. It takes time and repetition for a message to stick, and the best oppo on Gingrich isn't the best-suited for 30-second sound bites. (There are only two full weeks, without any holidays, left before voting begins in Iowa.)

Talking to strategists close to Romney, it appears they're going to be playing it cautious in Iowa, preparing for the long, hard slog.  They're hoping Gingrich self-destructs, but are prepared to unleash oppo later in the game. They're expecting Romney to score points by effectively engaging him.  in the upcoming debates.  Indeed, Romney scored one of his best debating showdown when challenging Gingrich at a recent debate about his past support for an individual mandate.   Gingrich was left nearly speechless.

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