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Mitt Just Can’t Close the Deal

Notice how every time Mitt Romney starts looking inevitable, something seems to happen that delays the coronation? Last night, it was Rick Santorum that happened. And what a strategic blunder by the Romney campaign.

None of these elections Tuesday were supposed to matter. No real delegates at stake, mostly beauty contests/caucuses. There was hardly any pre-election polling. Most of the media didn’t even bother to travel to Tuesday’s election states. The Romney folks didn’t even try, short of offering up some last minute criticisms about Santorum being a fan of ear marks, making him out to be some sort of secret free spender or something.

Note to Romney campaign team: if you’re not going to actively compete why even enter the race? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to say, “Well, what do you expect? He wasn’t on the ballot.”

The rest of the month is pretty sparse by way of primaries or caucuses. Rick Santorum now gets a few weeks of limelight and the Romney folks get a few weeks of doubt. Doubt created by coming in a distant 3rd in Minnesota, a state he had no problem with against John McCain four years ago. Doubt created by the prospect, having lost Iowa and Missouri, of a Republican Party that nominates a candidate with little appeal in the heartland. And he lost Colorado too- a huge, key swing state.

And Newt Gingrich is still around and likely to do pretty well in a lot of southern states. He’ll get his share of votes too on Super Tuesday next month. Let’s not forget Ron Paul who actually beat Romney last night in Minnesota.

On paper, Mitt Romney and his Super Pacs and organization look unbeatable. But how long will it take? How much more negative carpet bombing can the party endure as the candidates keep sniping at each other and continue to write Obama’s campaign ads for him?

The Romney strategy so far seems to be going nuclear on whoever else starts tip-toeing close to him. Five million bucks against Newt in Iowa. Nine million bucks against Newt in Florida. No doubt, the anti-Santorum attack ads are being produced as we speak.

Ninety percent of it so far has been negative advertising that does a good job eviscerating your opponent but also drives up your own negatives. And to avoid blunders, Romney has now stopped doing town hall meetings and, my guess is, very few media interviews in the days ahead; not exactly a formula for connecting with the voters.

Romney may well win a battle of attrition. Republicans will end up gathering around him, united in their virulent opposition to the Obama presidency. But he may also end up a wounded nominee going up against a well-funded incumbent with the backdrop of a suddenly improving economy- and that’s a daunting task.

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