Political operatives speak about “a path to the nomination,” meaning the series of developments that must occur for a candidate to win the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Let’s look at each potential contender’s path — or whether he or she even has one.
Mitt Romney: Ideally for him, he would win Iowa and the race would be over. But the risk of competing seriously and failing is high. If the top dog in the race loses after a vigorous effort, it is a near-fatal blow. For that reason, I suspect he will put all the chips on the table in New Hampshire, hoping to pick up speed and grab wins in Nevada and Michigan. If Sarah Palin runs (and knocks out many other candidates), it boils down to a one-on-one race, which, I believe, he would win. And finally, ObamaCare, I suspect, would need to be repealed (unlikely) or seriously amended (by the courts or Congress) in order to lessen the impact of his biggest liability (i.e. RomneyCare).
Tim Pawlenty: It is critical for him to win or significantly exceed expectations in Iowa. Money and momentum would then build. If Romney does not meet expectations in New Hampshire, Pawlenty may then be the favorite going into South Carolina. Now, if Mike Huckabee runs, this complicates Pawlenty’s strategy. (Huckabee won Iowa in 2008 and has strong appeal with evangelicals, who are a critical block in the caucus process.)
Haley Barbour: Assuming he gets in and can push back on the criticism over his racial gaffe, he, too, would need to do well in Iowa. Pawlenty would have to do poorly in Iowa and then fade. Barbour then could become the rival to Romney going into South Carolina, where, if Huckabee doesn’t run, he becomes the favorite. Then he savages Romney on RomneyCare.
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