New Hampshire or Iowa: Where Republicans Should Place Their Chips

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June 13, 2011, 7:25 p.m.

WH sr. ad­viser Dav­id Axel­rod said 10/6 that Ex-MA Gov. Mitt Rom­ney (R) “is to be among the field” of GOP can­did­ates vy­ing to chal­lenge Pres. Obama for WH ‘12.

Rom­ney is “cer­tainly go­ing to run,” said Axel­rod, who in­tends to leave the WH some­time in ‘11 “to be­gin work­ing on Obama’s reelec­tion cam­paign.”

Axel­rod: “You know, he star­ted off as a mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­an in Mas­sachu­setts — passed a health care plan very sim­il­ar to the pres­id­ent’s health care plan. And I al­ways thought that if he had just stuck to who he was, he would be a far more for­mid­able can­did­ate. But he’s try­ing to cater to the right wing of that party, and I don’t think that’s a pre­scrip­tion for vic­tory” (O’Bri­en, The Hill, 10/7).

Fold­ing The Re­li­gion Card

Rom­ney “was out stump­ing” for ID Gov. Butch Ot­ter (R) on 10/6. “The pair kept to their talk­ing points - the im­port­ance of keep­ing budgets small and cut­ting spend­ing.”

ID busi­ness­man Frank Vander­sloot opened the rally by com­ment­ing on act­iv­ist/ex-Har­vard prof./GOV nom­in­ee Keith Allred’s (D) cam­paign, “say­ing Allred is telling people to vote for him be­cause he’s Mor­mon.” Vander­sloot: “My an­swer to that is, well, Harry Re­id’s a Mor­mon.”

Vander­sloot him­self be­longs to the LDS church - and so does Rom­ney. “Rom­ney’s pres­ence was ex­pec­ted to boost sup­port from LDS voters,” but he “didn’t talk about re­li­gion;” in­stead, he cri­ti­cized big gov’t. Rom­ney: “They’re smoth­er­ing the spir­it that makes Amer­ica such an en­gine of vi­tal­ity and growth. We’re not go­ing to let them do that” (KIVI-TV, 10/7).

Look­ing Ahead

Rom­ney’s next stop in MN “is aimed at help­ing fuel the state GOP fin­an­cially with two weeks left” be­fore the Nov. elec­tion.

Rom­ney plans to be in Bloom­ing­ton for a “high-buck fun­draiser” on 10/18. The goal is to raise $5K per couple (AP, 10/7).

Mitt Rom­ney’s May Day plan seemed pretty reas­on­able for a man who had been sys­tem­at­ic­ally and suc­cess­fully clear­ing his path to the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion for more than a year.

Re­pub­lic­ans had been quietly din­ging Pres­id­ent Obama throughout the pre­vi­ous week­end for ap­pear­ing to be tak­ing a vic­tory lap lead­ing up to the an­niversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The Obama cam­paign helped the GOP’s case by post­ing a Web video fea­tur­ing Bill Clin­ton prais­ing Obama for mak­ing the right de­cision on that dra­mat­ic night one year ago. Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., de­cried it as a “shame­less end-zone dance” de­signed to aid the pres­id­ent’s reelec­tion in a news re­lease. “I’ve had the great hon­or of serving in the com­pany of her­oes,” Mc­Cain also told Bill O’Re­illy on Fox News. “And you know the thing about her­oes? They don’t brag.”

This story line seemed to be gath­er­ing some mo­mentum—right up un­til around mid­day Tues­day. That’s when ru­mors began to swirl that the end-zone-dan­cing pres­id­ent was on his way to Afgh­anistan.

The next 24 hours provided an in­con­tro­vert­ible les­son in the powers of in­cum­bency.

First, there was the secrecy. The pres­id­ent was spir­ited off to An­drews Air Force base at mid­night on Monday, while the rest of us made ready for a night’s sleep. While he was in the air with a press pool sworn to secrecy (their mo­bile devices were taken away to drive home that point), the cov­er was briefly blown on Tues­day morn­ing by a single ran­dom tweet that got picked up on­line by the New York Post and the Drudge Re­port. But once the White House got wind of that, the New York Post re­moved the con­tent while Drudge Re­port pos­ted the White House deni­al that the pres­id­ent had already landed.

Of course, in our Web age, noth­ing can be com­pletely wiped clean. And by mid­day, still-mum news or­gan­iz­a­tions—in­clud­ing the PBS News­Hour—began to move re­sources in­to po­s­i­tion to cov­er what would be a dra­mat­ic six-hour pres­id­en­tial war-zone vis­it.

While all of this was go­ing on, the Rom­ney forces ex­ecuted their own plan for the day. The can­did­ate, who was in New York, did a little morn­ing tele­vi­sion, met privately with May­or Mi­chael Bloomberg, picked up some pizza for a vis­it with fire­fight­ers, and ap­peared be­fore cam­er­as in the com­pany of former May­or Rudy Gi­uliani.

The idea was to con­trast what Re­pub­lic­ans saw as the Obama cam­paign’s ex­ploit­a­tion of the bin Laden an­niversary with Rom­ney’s low-key New York vis­it, which would stir 9/11 memor­ies without ap­pear­ing to make it too big of a deal.

Gi­uliani was on hand to act as the sur­rog­ate who cri­ti­cized the pres­id­ent’s tri­umphal­ism, and—aside from one per­sist­ent and loud New York heck­ler—everything was go­ing ac­cord­ing to plan.

But then the pres­id­ent landed at Ba­gram Air­field un­der cov­er of dark­ness. And the rest of the day it be­came—”Mitt who?”

This is the way of the me­dia world. We love sur­prises. The pres­id­ent pop­ping up in Ka­bul was a whale of a sur­prise. Mitt Rom­ney eat­ing pizza with fire­fight­ers was not.

We are cap­tiv­ated by danger. Any scen­ario that in­volves Air Force One jet­ting in­to a war zone with its win­dows blacked out, well, fills that bill. And we ad­ore pre­ced­ent. A pres­id­ent de­liv­er­ing a live ad­dress from said war zone at 4 a.m. Ka­bul time (at the tail end of the even­ing news broad­casts on the U.S. East Coast) qual­i­fies. New York street heck­lers may be an­noy­ing, but they are sel­dom dan­ger­ous.

Rom­ney was ef­fect­ively shut down. It’s a heck of a lot easi­er to ques­tion a chal­lenger’s pat­ri­ot­ic motives when he is on the cam­paign trail with you than when he is half a world away high-fiv­ing with cam­ou­flage-clad Amer­ic­an troops.

That’s when it’s great to be the guy who’s got the job already.

But even a good day can get knocked off course. Even as the pres­id­ent was bar­rel­ing out of Ka­bul be­fore the sun rose, a dip­lo­mat­ic mess was un­fold­ing roughly 2,600 miles away in China. There, a sym­path­et­ic blind dis­sid­ent es­caped from home de­ten­tion and holed up in the U.S. Em­bassy just as Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton was due to ar­rive for talks with the Chinese gov­ern­ment.

By week’s end, it would all turn in­to a sticky dip­lo­mat­ic mess. If an ex­ten­ded vic­tory lap was on the pres­id­ent’s agenda, it was cut bru­tally short.

It turns out there is a down­side to in­cum­bency, too.

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