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Mitt Romney, Chessmaster


Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets supporters who braved the rain during a campaign stop at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Monday, March 12, 2012 in Mobile, Ala.(AP Photo/ John David Mercer)

When Mitt Romney enthusiastically embraced the idea of Puerto Rican statehood during January's Hispanic Leadership Conference, there was no shortage of theories affixed to Romney's motives. Was he trying to curry favor with Hispanics in the final days before Florida's critical primary election? Was he working to secure the endorsement of Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño, a rising young star in the Republican Party? Or was he simply extending an olive branch to the Latino community, a key demographic that has turned sharply away from Republicans in recent elections?

Viable theories all, but they overlook a simpler reality: Puerto Rico awards 23 delegates to the Republican National Convention, and the U.S. territory's March 18 primary election is the month's only winner-take-all contest.

Politics is chess, not checkers. Whether working the campaign trail or whipping votes once elected, the politician who can plan multiple moves ahead of his opponent is always at an advantage. That principle has manifested itself throughout this year's presidential race: Romney's team gained an early edge by building a long-term strategy around new RNC rules mandating proportionate delegate allocation; and since then, in every phase of his state-to-state primary campaign -- from organizing on the ground, to scheduling visits, to securing high-profile endorsements, to purchasing air time -- Romney has remained several steps ahead of his competitors by executing that strategy.

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