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Mitt Romney: The Surprisingly Strong Presidential Candidate

- August 29, 2012

Ezra Klein:

bq. Romney isn’t always the best speaker. He can be wooden on the stump and gaffe-prone off of it. But his very public weaknesses can obscure the fact that he’s a very, very good politician. He’s an incredible fundraiser. He’s a strong debater. He’s disciplined in his message. He’s strategic. He’s good at picking campaign staff. And the results show: He’s now the Republican nominee for president.

This is a theme that Lynn Vavreck and I develop in the second chapter of our book, “Random or Romney?”  You can download the chapter here.  On January 10, I wrote a post titled “The Inevitability of Mitt Romney” and stuck by that assessment even in the dark days after South Carolina.  In this chapter, which takes the story up to the eve of the Iowa caucus, we show how well-positioned Romney was.

Consider this graph from December 2011, which plots the number of endorsements from party leaders that the GOP candidates had received, their fundraising totals, the attention they received from news coverage (their share of mentions of all the GOP candidates, weighted by how positive or negative those mentions were), and their median standing in the polls.

Although there had been times in which Romney wasn’t the top fundraiser, or getting the most media attention, or leading in the polls, the sum total of 2011 shows Romney’s capabilities and his advantage heading into 2012.  He was not a perfect candidate, but he was the clear frontrunner at that point.  And, as we will show in the next chapter, even subsequent surges by Gingrich and Santorum could not fundamentally alter the race.

Consider also this: Romney lost a total of 13 primaries or caucuses.  That’s more than Bob Dole (6) or George W. Bush in 2000 (7).  But it is less than Bill Clinton (18), John McCain (18), and Barack Obama (21, including Michigan and Florida).  He won delegates at almost exactly the same rate as McCain.

Of course, if Romney loses, then there will be endless dissection of his limitations as a candidate, regardless of whether those had anything to do with his defeat.

But here on the cusp of his nomination, I think he is due some respect, and certainly more respect than he got for most of the primary.