Is Mitt Romney the Rudy Giuliani of 2012?

I’ve been thinking recently about the possible similarities between Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 Presidential campaign and Mitt Romney’s 2012 Presidential campaign. Both were/are the national poll leaders more than six months out from the actual primaries, both were Republican executives from the Eastern US, both were/are favorites among big donors and both had/have taken stances or possessed attributes that are anathema to the Republican party’s base. In Rudy Giuliani’s case, it was his stances on gay rights and abortion (as well as his several divorces) and in Mitt Romney’s case, his past support for an individual health care mandate and his Mormon faith could make him unacceptable to many Republican voters.

Giuliani, as you might remember, fizzled out despite his large initial polling lead because he didn’t draw a significant vote total in any of the early primary/caucus states. He was nationally popular, but couldn’t build any momentum once the actual voting started because he was not popular in the first few states to nominate a candidate. Could Romney follow the same path?

As of right now, Romney looks to be in a better position than Giuliani was, but only marginally so. Romney almost certainly will not win the Iowa caucuses, which are dominated by social conservatives, and his campaign has basically admitted as much. Right now, Romney polls second in Iowa behind Michele Bachmann, but expect even his 22 percent support to drop as the conservative Iowa voters get to know more about Romney’s Mormonism and past liberal-leaning stances. If  Romney won’t be a  strong contender in Iowa, then we need to look at the critical New Hampshire primary next.

Romney has strong support in New  Hampshire, but it has been slipping recently. Bachmann is on his tail in New Hampshire and Rick Perry is also rising in the state. Its important to note that Romney has been here before. In 2008 both Giuliani and Romney were early favorites to win the New Hampshire primaries. They ran second and first in the polls for months until they were both dropped by the primary voters in favor of the surging John McCain.

Typically, early polling leads don’t matter nearly as much as sustained momentum leading up to the actual nominating contests. To have momentum on voting day, you typically need a dedicated group of enthusiastic supporters and money to spread your messaging (tout your record, tear down your opponents) to the public. Mitt Romney does seem to have a good ground game of supporters and he is well-known among Republican voters (having run once before) so his numbers will not be too volatile, but I do worry about his financial prospects.

His fundraising numbers for the last quarter put Romney well ahead of the rest of the candidates, but his haul, at $18 million was much less than most expected and also less than he raised in 2007. One big headline Romney made was when his campaign announced that he has raised $10 million in one day! That turned out to be a farce, as some accounting gimmicks only made  it appear that he had earned that much in a single day.

Now there’s the news that 70 percent of  Romney’s donors are maxed out and can contribute no more to his nomination campaign. Its certainly not a good sign for a candidate when nearly all of your support is coming from high-rolling donors, while few people of more limited  means are contributing to your campaign. Only six percent of Romney’s fundraising total came from donations of less than $100, typically a sign of grassroots support.

To be able to win, Romney needs to connect with the grassroots and run-of-the-mill members of the party or else it is very likely that his once-commanding support will falter and he will go the way of Rudy Giuliani. he will have to sidestep the landmine that is his past support for an individual mandate and hope that other plausible establishment figures, like Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry, fail to gain traction. Right now though, he’s starting to look a lot like Rudy Giuliani.

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