FHQ is as guilty as most in the 2012 gazing. [We've been doing since November 2008.] However, this speculation on Mitt Romney and New Hampshire seems misguided to me. Yes, it is way too early and yes, that lead Romney holds in the Granite state may not hold over the next two years. Yet, even if it does, it would be suicide for any of the prospective Republican candidates to skip the state. This has not happened since 1992 when Democratic candidates opted to cede Iowa to favorite son, Tom Harkin. Actually it has happened. Rudy Giuliani skipped Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to focus on Florida. And how did that work out? Not well. Once McCain won the Sunshine state primary on January 29, 2008, Giuliani was done. Why pass up a chance to put a major kink in the Romney armor in early 2012?
Look, Karl Rove's "attack you opponent's strength" is now among the dominant strategies in campaign politics. To pass up challenging Romney in New Hampshire is to pass up an opportunity to completely undermine his presidential candidacy. Let's not forget that running for president is about winning, but depending on the cycle winning is defined differently. In a George W. Bush in 2000 type of race, it is about overwhelming your competition on your way to the nomination. In more competitive races, though, it is important to win, but also important to beat expectations.
The Republican nomination race in 2012 will be competitive, and the expectations -- given the polls of the state that have trickled out since 2008 -- Romney is "supposed" to win handily. Of course, Bill Clinton was "supposed" to get swamped in the Granite state in 1992. Yet, all we talk about is his comeback and second place finish. Who won that primary? Why President Paul Tsongas, of course. No, Tsongas didn't win the 1992 Democratic nomination despite the win in New Hampshire. Bill Clinton did and taught us a valuable lesson about expectations in presidential nomination races.
- Obama wasn't supposed to win Iowa in 2008, but he did by seven points.
- McCain was supposedly done in the summer of 2007, yet his fourth place finish -- given the resources he had spent in Iowa -- was seen as a fairly good result.
- John Edwards had to win South Carolina in 2008 after winning there in 2004. But he didn't and that was a damning indictment on his candidacy.
Yes, these are all examples from 2008, but the premise can be extended to other cycles as well. Expectations matter in the context of presidential primaries and caucuses and will continue to matter. The expectation in November 2010 is that Romney is going to win in New Hampshire in 2012. There's a long way to go and Romney may win in the Granite state, but how much he wins by in a competitive race (for the nomination) will have a say in who the eventual nominee is.