Sunday, February 1, 2015

Romney's Out: The Invisible Primary Claims Its First Victim

As I said in my last post, Mitt Romney did not appear to be a man about to embark on a third presidential campaign when I saw him speak at Mississippi State University on January 28, 2015.  In fact, we now know that he is not running.  He has, in essence, become the first casualty of the 2015 'invisible primary.'  The question then turns to what does Romney's decision not to seek the nomination mean for the rest of the field?

First, Romney's 'departure' eliminates one of the three contenders for support by the business (establishment) wing of the Republican Party donor class.  It appears from news reports that one of Romney's main considerations was whether he could lock in the financial support of many of his biggest contributors from 2011-12, some of whom wanted to support a 'fresher' face in the upcoming campaign.  Jeb Bush seems to be in the best position to capitalize on Romney's exit as he and Romney's fundraising list shared some 40+ zip codes loaded with wealthy donors.  The Bush fundraising machine is in high gear and it will be interesting to see what the numbers look like when he has to start reporting them.

Second, Romney's declination to run opens a window for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to make a serious bid for the nomination.  Like Romney and Bush, Christie should get a lot of support from the business community and its wealthiest members.  A big unknown, however, is what impact the numerous mini-scandals (Bridgegate and the like) will have on Christie's appeal outside of NY and NJ.  It is unlikely his brash northeastern attitude will play well in some parts of the country that are used to politics that are more refined than what we typically witness in New Jersey.  If Christie is able to raise the $50 million or so it will take to run a decent race for the nomination heading towards Iowa and New Hampshire next January, it could set up an interesting battle between he and former Florida Governor Bush.

Third, Romney's decision not to enter the race is likely good news for another group of second tier candidates who might have struggled to raise the necessary funds to be competitive and generate name recognition.  At the top of this list are two names that will be competing for much of the same space on the political spectrum, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Both have struggled to generate much excitement from the Republican establishment so far, though Walker's speech at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Summit was apparently a big hit with the crowd.

Finally, others who might stand to benefit from Romney's departure include Mike Huckabee, though I personally think his appeal is limited to the evangelical wing of the party, and Rand Paul (again, limited appeal to the libertarian crowd), and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (if he runs).  Of these three, my bet would be on Kasich having the most success appealing to multiple wings of the GOP.  The big question for each of them is foreign policy knowledge.  None has any experience with foreign affairs and given the dangerous world we live in today it is a good bet the GOP will want someone who has the skill and experience to tackle threats like ISIS and deal with the renewed threats coming from the Russian Bear.

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