Monday, July 30, 2007

For Romney, it's Family First

A mayor with more baggage than the Howells on Gilligan's three hour tour. A Mormon representing "Liberal America," and marketing himself to the Christian Right. A 64 year old senator with a SAG card in his pocket, and a 39 year old trophy on his arm.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2008 Republican presidential candidates.

But it's all in how you look at it:

America's mayor, the man who packs the emotional punch of a hurricane. A political legacy with a record of broad-based appeal, and success in business and administration. A two- term southern senator claiming the mantle of Ronald Reagan, with the skills to back it up.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani is the front- runner. He has the most money, the most press, and the most support. But he's vulnerable. You know that crack about his baggage? Well it's an understatement. He's been divorced twice (once from his cousin), and had how many wives, Rudy? (see pic to right); he's estranged from his only son; has a history of supporting gay rights, abortion rights, and gun control; and the firefighters' union is trying to rip down his 9/11-hero persona with a slew of charges. I mean they are just itching to swiftboat this guy back to Brooklyn. Bottom line: he is not the conservative or establishment darling George W. Bush was, not by a long shot.

Meanwhile, Thompson hasn't even declared yet, so he's relatively new to the equation. Without his presence, John McCain's meltdown would have put Romney in a one on one match up with Giuliani. That was Romney's goal when he got his campaign together a year ago, so you know he's disappointed to even deal with big Fred.

The two each have to be the anti-Rudy, and whoever does the best job will square off with the Mayor for the nomination. So they share a goal, but also a problem: neither of them really is the anti- Rudy.

Romney is the son of the former governor of Michigan, and a practicing Mormon. His religion does not easily jibe with more mainstream Christian faiths. Also, he served as Governor of liberal Massachusetts, where he ran as a pro- choice moderate, never much caring about the social issues that have motivated conservatives in the recent past.

He has since "rethought" his stance on abortion and stem cell research, but voters may not buy what Republican candidate Tom Tancredo called "a conversion on the road to Des Moines, not Damascus."

Thompson doesn't offer bedrock conservatism, either. As reported by the Washington Times, "[His] most-oft-cited credential is his 86.1 percent lifetime (1995-2002) Senate vote rating compiled by the ACU, the leading arbiter of conservatism." However, this rating was consistently lower than his fellow Senator from Tennessee, Bill Frist, making him, the Wash Times snickers, the "liberal Senator from Tennessee." There are also questions that Thompson lobbied for a pro- choice group.

So neither have the record to stand up boldly against Giuliani as the "Conservative" choice. But that doesn't mean they won't do it anyway. For Romney, who married his high school sweetheart some thirty years ago, winning that battle means focusing on his family. The Romneys have five sons (all of whom are visible on the campaign trail), with five daughters-in-law, and ten grandkids. They'll all be in Iowa for the Ames straw- poll on August 11.

"I can't wait for you to meet our family," Romney says.

Yeah, no kidding.

Giuliani is on his third wife and isn't on speaking terms with his last one, or their son. Thompson is on his second, a very accomplished (and very hot) former political consultant, 24 years his junior.

In the early, small states where politics is retail and many voters actually meet each candidate, this advantage is huge.

Romney is the only leading candidate taking the part in the Ames straw poll. He leads in Iowa and New Hampshire. So his strategy is to come out strong, establish himself as a force, and hope his momentum carries. Without those early states Romney is a dead duck, but with his family by his side, he's looking good.

The other two guys know it, too, their strategies basically concede Iowa and New Hampshire (which the reshuffled primary calendar allows them to do).

Thompson will hope Giuliani takes Romney out in the big states in the Northeast and West, while he focuses on the South, setting up his preferred two man showdown.

There seems to be something missing in this equation. Perhaps someone with the conservative chops to actually be Giuliani's legitimate counterpoint. People are talking about former Speaker Newt Gingrich making a run. He has done zero to quiet the speculation, either, recently evoking Stalin (yes, Stalin) by calling the current field "pygmies." But I doubt he'll run.

The funny twist is that for all the talk about how Romney's Mormonism may hurt his campaign, it has had, shall we say, an unintended benefit of leading to quite a large (and photogenic) family. So sometimes a weakness can turn into a strength.

I guess it's all in how you look at it.


byrd said...

Good analysis. Each of these candidates has their weaknesses and strengths as noted. I wonder,though, how much Guiliani's family troubles will hurt him in the eyes of most of America. No doubt some of the fire-breathing Baptists in the south will have a problem with his serial monogamy but divorce has become very mainstream in America- even in the South and Midwest. I imagine that his family trouble cannot help him but I do not see it playing a huge negative role in even the primary campaign. Remember, Reagan was divorced and it was largely ignored during the primary season and in the general election.

Chris Meehan said...

i agree that divorce isn't that big a deal anymore, certainly not in traditional "red states" where rates are consistently the highest in the country.

but, when you contrast romney's family with his opponents' the difference is striking. i don't think it should be underestimated, especailly in retail states. the question is whether early wins there can catapult him to victories where politics becomes wholesale and his family will matter less.

i remember when i lived in boston when he ran for governor and he had commercials talking about how he'd fly from california to michigan in college every weekend just to see his hs sweetheart that ultimately became his wife.

it can't hurt.