Mitt Romney is a former one-term governor of Massachusetts who is running for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. If Romney is to capture the nomination, he must defeat several better known candidates like Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Fred Thompson. I see some parallels between Romney’s current run and Jimmy Carter’s successful run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976.
Like Romney, Carter was also a former one-term governor of a medium-sized state when he sought the presidency. He was competing against the likes of Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Sargent Shriver (the party’s vice presidential nominee four years earlier), Lloyd Bentsen, Morris “Mo” Udall, and Birch Bayh. All of these candidates were much better known on the national scene at that time. Each felt that he could rely on his name recognition and standing in the national polls as stepping stones to the nomination. On the other hand, Carter was little known and barely registered one percent in the national polls as the campaign got underway in late 1975. However, he used his “fresh face” to his advantage and campaigned as outsider who had not been tarnished by Washington politics or the Watergate scandal.
As Romney has done so far, Carter focused his initial efforts on building support in Iowa and New Hampshire, seeking to get some early victories and thus creating some momentum heading into the larger states. Furthermore, he sought to create a state-by-state strategy by getting his name on the ballot and competing everywhere there was going to be a primary, a caucus, or even a straw poll conducted. Carter’s opponents, however, seemed more interested in cherry-picking the states with the larger delegate counts.
We can see the same thing starting to happen now with Romney and his opponents for the Republican nomination. Note that Romney has completed vigorously in every major straw poll that has been held so far — and was the clear winner in two recent ones in Iowa and Illinois. Like Carter, Romney realizes that one cannot simply throw his hat into the ring and have voters swoon over him — even if he does have celebrity status. Instead, one must earn votes by aggressively pursuing them, especially in the states that conduct early nominating contests.
While he is still running third or fourth in most national and larger state polls, he has built solid leads in both Iowa and New Hampshire. In addition, he has recently taken the lead in Nevada, another state that conducts an early caucus next year. If these poll numbers hold up through January, he’ll instantly take a commanding lead in the race for the nomination and could become difficult, if not impossible, to beat. As was the case with Carter in 1976, Romney may indeed outmaneuver his higher-profile competitors en route to his party’s presidential nomination.