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The Political Pulse

Latest opinion research and analysis

The Importance Of Not Being Romney

Following strong performances in recent debates, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s campaign for the Presidency has seen a ‘meteoric rise’. Two months after the meteoric rise and subsequent waining of Herman Cain, four months after that of Texas Governor Rick Perry and six months after that of Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

There is a certain sense behind Newt Gingrich’s recent success; he is an accomplished political veteran with a record of success as a Federal level, who has held one of the most important offices in US government, if 15 years ago. His multiple divorces aside, the dowager Speaker’s resume seems more appropriate to the White House than a pizza tycoon who has never held public office at any level of government or a junior if quirky member of the House of Representatives.  Governor Perry’s problems are of course all about his character rather than biography.

Such statements are of course a hostage to fortune, but there seems something more solid about Mr Gingrich’s increases over the past few months; not only has it been steady, but it seems likely that everything voters might want to know about his candidacy is already in the public domain – and his sheer volume of political experience make a Perry or Cain ‘oops’ moment far less likely. It is also difficult to pigeon-hole his appeal: yesterday’s PPP poll from California, the most delegate-rich state in the Republican primary, showed Mr Gingrich with a 10-point lead in what should be solid Mitt Romney down-to-business country. Another last week, showed him with a small lead in conservative Mississippi, in a non-Romney state where Herman Cain may well have a problem with the almost entirely white Republican party base.

All this boils down to one simple argument: the Republican race is about becoming the most credible, and eventually the only not-Mitt Romney candidate – and Mr Gingrich presents the latest and possibly most electorally convincing case.

Herein lie some seemingly unlikely comparisons with the Democratic nomination contest of 2006-08. The importance the Obama campaign put on Iowa in 2007 was in part the role it would play in uniting the not-Hillary vote around his candidacy. The Illinois Senator’s strategists strongly believed Hillary Clinton did not enjoy majority support among Democratic primary and caucus goers, but that she would triumph against divided opposition. This was especially true among those voters constantly appearing as ‘undecided’; they know enough about Hillary to suspect they didn’t want her, but were not yet wedded to an alternative candidate. Knocking out John Edwards at the earliest opportunity was therefore crucial for Barack Obama – and allowed him to enter Super Tuesday as ‘the alternative’.

Mitt Romney remains the favourite, and perfectly credible arguments have been presented as to why he is the inevitable nominee – and indeed, from Republican commentators, why he would lose to Obama. But beyond question is the fact that there is nowhere near the sense of certainty behind Mitt Romney’s nomination as there was Hillary Clinton’s. In a political world in which the Tea Party has seemingly replaced the Republican Garfield’s Law of ‘nominate the most conservative candidate who can win’ with ‘nominate the most conservative candidate you like’, Mr Romney looks suddenly unlikeable and fragile and Mr Gingrich perfectly plausible.

Looking down the road to the battle to win over swing voters in key state, this will bring cheer to the Obama campaign.