Mitt Romney handily won the New Hampshire primary on the heels of his Iowa win -- a first for any primary season not involving the incumbent. Pretty impressive. But what is perhaps an even more approving statistic is that Romney won in every "category" of voter in New Hampshire. From rich to poor, from social conservative to fiscal conservative from young to old, Romney took the majority in every category -- no matter how you slice it. Romney is running ahead in the polls in South Carolina and by every conceivable measure will almost surely be the Republican nominee.
Despite the sometime-surges and flash-in-the-pans of other candidates, to serious observers the Romney win is no surprise. Many have argued from the beginning that Romney is and has always been the only real choice -- not only because of his credentials and his massive fundraising network -- but also because of the unbelievable dearth of other serious candidates (with the exception of John Huntsman). Whether it was the spurious shenanigans of Herman "smooth hands" Cain, the absent mind of Rick Perry, the counterfeit career of Newt Gingrich or the reactionary rants of Rick Santorum, none of these candidates seemed within miles of the challenge.
While the commentators might tell you differently -- after all they have to stir up controversy to get ratings -- the GOP primary is largely over before it began -- and Romney will be the winner.
As the clowns of the GOP fade into the background, the country will now focus squarely on Mitt Romney -- watching him no doubt -- ride to success, state after state, win after win. Then our attention will be drawn to the main event -- the general election -- early this year -- and commentators will begin to draw distinctions between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney.
However the only distinction that will count is how the two stack up on the economy. The number one concern for voters in New Hampshire was jobs. The same will be true for the general electorate. And who wins will be largely decided by what people think of Mitt Romney as an economic leader.
There are two very different stories that can be told. The story the Romney camp has spun is that he is a shrewd businessman who understands the private market. He gets the way the economy really works -- as opposed to that social organizer who never managed a P and L. He's a sharp CEO-type who will make the bold decisions that can turn America around, which include downsizing government, reducing taxes and cutting through red tape.
In his victory speech on Tuesday Romney got rousing support when he lambasted President Obama for his "job-killing measures" and for losing our triple A-rating. He said to cheers, "When it comes to the economy, my biggest priority will be preserving your job, not saving my own."
However much to the Romney camp's dismay there is another equally-compelling business story about Romney. As Newt Gingrich summarized in his attacks, "There is a difference between someone who creates jobs -- a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates - and someone who makes profits by slicing and dicing companies." Many (including those in his own party) see Romney as an evil corporate raider (think Richard Gere's character in Pretty Woman) who's made a fortune by giving middle and low-income folks pink slips and reaping the remaining corporate profits for himself.
So far, Romney has run towards the accusation saying that layoffs are a part of capitalism and he's not going to apologize. That might be a fine rebuttal in a Republican debate, but it will play as cold and harsh over a video of a crying desperate woman whose job Romney destroyed. Indeed one can only imagine what the Obama team will do with those ads.
Moreover, at a time when the Occupy Wall Street Movement has reverberated into every sector of our culture, it's hard to believe that a corporate-finance type like Romney can succeed. After all, didn't guys like Romney create the financial bubble that created this mess in the first place? And won't he be seen as someone who will implement policies that benefit only the richest Americans?
Which "vision of Romney" will be believed will largely depend on who spins the best yarn. The winning strategy for the Obama camp will be to go hard and strong in states hit hard by big corporate layoffs, namely the swing states of the Rust Belt -- Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the tale of Romney as economic reformer will play better to the more socially conservative swing states like North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida where older, wealthier voters are likely to give Romney a win.
It's no doubt that the general election will be one of the closest, hardest-fought and expensive in memory. It may play as class warfare -- and the deciding factor just may be how our fragile economy and stock market fare in the very few months ahead.
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