At Least It’s The Right Place For A Gamble

Primaries are tricky.  Every single state you have to gage your chances, prepare your pre vote spin, and have a damage control plan ready to go.  You also have to have a gameplan as to which states you’re going to play in, and which ones you’re going to bow out of and hope you can play the expectations game just right such that a loss still looks like a win.

It’s a delegate race, true, but it’s also a race for positive headlines and bumps.  You’re not just trying to suck up as much votes as you can in every state, but you’re also trying to use your performance in once state to convince voters in later states that you are competitive, you do have what it takes to go the distance.  If you can’t do this, your donors dry up, on the fence supporters start looking in other directions, and news headlines that might have been in your favor a week before start asking where you went, and if you’re planning on dropping out of a race soon.

It is in this crazy quicksand in which Mitt Romney finds himself.

Mitt had the perfect plan going into primary season.  Play retail politics like a madman in the big three early states, let the headlines crown you the presumptive nominee, and watch the consecutive bumps carry you straight through Super Tuesday.  In his pursuit of this strategy, Mitt’s national numbers sank, but he was poised for a strong showing throughout the primaries from day one.

Then along came Huck, and the Maverick, and after a loss in Iowa, and a loss in New Hampshire, that plan is blown all to hell, and Mitt finds himself doing the last thing you want to be doing at this point in the primaries; making risky gambles.

But he found the right place to lay down his chips, thematically speaking anyway.  Mitt’s made it clear that he’s going to preemptively cede victory in South Carolina in order to focus on winning Nevada, a state whose high Mormon population and relatively low prominence in the Republican race should be much more friendly.

Yet, like all gambles this one has risks, and boy howdy are they doosies.

For starters, there’s the matter of visibility.  One thing I’ve noticed is that the media is focusing on South Carolina for the Republicans, while the big story in Nevada is the upcoming Democratic caucus.  With the Republicans, all eyes will be on South Carolina, where there is a momentous battle between John McCain and Mike Huckabee, a battle that could easily be viewed as pivotal for both candidates.  For either candidate, South Carolina means the difference between being labeled a one hit wonder, or being the first Republican candidate to actually start consolidating power.

Keep in mind, Mitt’s the only candidate to have one two state primaries so far, and the first one, Wyoming, got barely a peep in the press.  As a result, people are looking for someone to back up their big ones to rally around.  In this instance, I think a Fred Thompson win in South Carolina best serves Mitt for it will prevent both McCain and Huck from gaining that momentum, though the only way that Romney will get any positive headlines out of South Carolina at all is if he manages to come in third.

Which brings us to Nevada; as I’ve said before, right now Nevada is a Democratic story, with the lawsuit and union turf wars being waged there on behalf of the Clinton and Obama camps soaking up most the newscycles.  As a result, I fear that a Romney win in Nevada may go unnoticed.  Further, given Nevada’s high Mormon population, it may have the same effect as Romney winning Utah; nothing unexpected, nothing worth paying attention to.

But there’s another real big problem with Romney pulling out of South Carolina; the South.  If Romney is to truly have a shot at the Republican nomination, he’s going to have to prove one thing, he can ultimately be competitive in the South.

In General Election politics, the South is Gopper territory, and while there are a lot of Goldwater conservatives and establishment Republicans that aren’t particularly fond of Huckabee being their standard bearer, I’m pretty sure they would be even more mortified to have a nominee that could put the entire South into play.

Thus, whether he does it now or does it later, Romney has to prove that he can keep the South in the GOP column or else Republicans are going to pick someone who will.  By pulling up stakes and getting out of dodge days before voters head to the polls, I believe Mitt might unintentionally sending a message to the South that he’s not even going to try that fight.

And that could be the biggest gamble of them all.

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