The political fight for Iowa is over and now the GOP candidates are on the ground in New Hampshire. The battle over the granite state will be interesting. Will former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney hold onto his formidable lead in the state after he squeezed out a win by a mere 8 votes from Former Pennsylvania Senator Santorum in Iowa? Just shows you every vote counts.
Even though Romney "won," Santorum was arguably the big winner coming out of Iowa. Now he is trying to capitalize on that momentum to further his political survival by filling his coffers. Greg Mueller President of CRC Public Relations has seen first hand how quickly momentum and money can soar or sink a candidate. He was a senior aid for the Presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes.
LL: Romney has hedged the outcome of the Iowa Caucus saying he would be happy to end in the top three. Romney came out on top but only by 13 points. Does this put a chink in the armor for Romney?
GM: If a challenger like Santorum can emerge from Iowa and go into New Hampshire, they don’t have to beat Romney, they just have to get within 5 points of him to create a surprise, gain momentum and have a showdown with Romney in South Carolina. It would be a shocker and all the hypothetical's would be re-written.
LL: Ken Duberstein told me New Hampshire will be “Romney Palooza.”
Romney may have the money but can he transform the enthusiasm to vote out Obama into an enthusiasm to rally behind him?
GM: Overall absolutely. There is an Obama fear factor from center to center right. Obama did not add up for how he campaigned. Obama is considered by some to be the most dangerous president in history more so than Carter in the 70’s. There will be enthusiasm within the Republican party to vote out Obama.
There is an interest in the GOP grassroots for an authentic conservative candidate to challenge Romney. We have seen support for Romney alternatives change several times- first it was Bachmann, then it was Perry, Cain and now its Santorum.
LL: How much will South Carolina Governor Nikki Hayley’s support help Romney with his religious background or will the distaste over the NLRB Boeing decision be motivation enough for evangelicals to support Romney?
GM: Endorsements only go so far and she (Hayley) has a passionate base. So, it would be the Hayley ground troops that would make the difference for Romney. The jury right now is out on Romney in the south. Last election cycle had him and Huckabee both vying for the conservative and evangelical vote and Huckabee won a lot of conservative and evangelical support and made it tough for Romney to gain ground on McCain.
If a conservative emerges, like Santorum and wins Iowa and scores a surprisingly close second place showing in New Hampshire, it could be tough for Romney to pull the conservative and evangelical vote. If Perry and Bachmann stay in till South Carolina it will be a more splintered vote, which helps Romney. Romney is more of an establishment candidate.
If it gets into a one on one battle with a conservative. challenger, at the end of the day the conservative voter will accept someone other than Romney. All of this is a momentum game. South Carolina is interesting and the voters are influenced by momentum that's generated in Iowa and New Hampshire. While Romney is looking well now, he remains, historically speaking, a weak front runner and the jury is still out on his political support in the South and that’s the wild card.
LL: There is a saying he who owns the gold makes the rules. Does Romney have a big enough war chest to go up against the billion dollar bank roll of President Obama?
GM: I’m not worried about that. Money is not everything in politics.
People’s ideas of where the country is going is more important.
Conservatives are worried Romney is going to run to the center in a general election rather than make this a campaign between a conservative limited government agenda versus President Obama's big government, socialist agenda. You need people to knock on doors and they are largely your conservative, Tea Party base.
If Romney wins the nomination and then campaigns from the center, this will muddy the waters with conservatives and reduce the energy level to work hard for him. The debates also helped Romney.
He explained his positions better and put forward an agenda, whereas in the past he didn’t. I think conservatives will support him if he wins the nomination provided that he campaigns as a conservative and does not lurch to the middle to appease some phantom constituency. If he does move to the center, and I have spoken with some conservative leaders about this recently it will dampen the much needed enthusiasm to beat Obama.
LL: Will the President’s tacit in painting himself as an outsider and blaming a do-nothing Congress backfire? Many of my CEO contacts say the President should be leading instead of politicking.
GM: I think eventually this will come back around and when it does it will not add up. There are 22 jobs bill passed by the Republican lead House that are sitting in the Senate which Harry Reid has refused to put up for a vote. The President can’t run on the economy, stimulus or health care. I don’t know what he can run on. He has to paint the Republican Party as the Boogie man but reality tells a different story.
LL: John Podesta told me he does not expect the President to get below 45 percent of his base vote. Can the GOP oust the President?
GM: I am surprised how left the President has stayed. He has managed to get himself to the left of even Jimmy Carter. I am surprised how arrogant he still is. He is not governing in the same style he projected in his 2008 campaign. He is running as if he is above Main Street now and that has hurt him a lot. Second issue is his policies.
There is a silent majority beyond conservatives and the Tea Party that believes we are spending too much and government is too involved now in our lives. This election will be big government versus limited government. Obama is moving center now, he came out saying he wants to work with Congress on taxes and the debt just recently. Our candidate has to keep this as a discussion over the size and scope of government.
If this is what the fight is about, the GOP can not only win the Presidency we could also take back the Senate.
LL: Ron Paul definitely has a base of supporters. Do you think he will run as a third party candidate and just how devastating would that be for the Republican party?
GM: I don’t think he will. I think he will stay in until the end.
Paul will most likely stay in all the way, amass the delegates and take his message and delegates to the convention. He is a populist libertarian and that is resonating with some independents and Tea Party members.
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A Senior Talent Producer at CNBC, and author of "Thriving in the New Economy:Lessons from Today's Top Business Minds."