By all accounts this should have been Mitt Romney's turn to win the Republican nomination and the presidency. In a survey last week he was the only Republican who topped Barack Obama in national polls. Now, after bin Laden, one has to wonder.
What still makes Romney strong?
First there is the money. Insiders have told me that Karl Rove has been advising the campaign and some insist that he is the mastermind behind this new formidable fundraising juggernaut for Romney.
Of course, fundraising was never a problem for Romney. Not to mention the personal funds the former governor has at the ready. This time Romney has multiple state political action committees, raising the limit, with Obama's lawyers crying foul.
Then there are all the ways that the money can be spent. It means that Romney can compete in every state. It means his campaign can endure early loses and still be a factor.
He will be able to advertise in the big wholesale state contests. He will be able to use that money to support local candidates who can return the favor by delivering their influence at the state conventions where the bulk of the delegates are still chosen.
In the endorsement contest Romney again stands tall. And that, again, is partly because of the money, including large amounts yet to be doled out. But also because most of the establishment figures in the GOP now believe that he would make the best president.
My former boss, George Herbert Walker Bush is among those, although he is savvy enough to know that endorsements can hurt as well as help a candidate.
Winning the "Insiders Primary" has brought great advantages to the Romney campaign. The GOP has moved some of the early contests into Mormon territory. And there are multiple contests there, allowing for him to recover from an early Iowa defeat should he be ambushed again about his religion as he was in 2008.
Evangelical insiders tell me that Romney is tapping public relations guru Mark DeMoss to help with the evangelical Christian voters. DeMoss was Jerry Falwell's righthand man.
And the same sources insist that big money is being given to Ralph Reed, who has worked closely with Karl Rove and speaks to evangelical voters through mailing lists, Richard Viguerie-style. It did not work for George W. Bush in 2000.
Bush told Iowa voters that his favorite "philosopher" was "Christ because he changed my heart." But the mailings and evangelical voter ID program did very poorly.
Evangelical turnout was dismal and Bush won the general election only with the help of the Supreme Court. Ralph Reed worked closely with Pat Robertson and was the central figure in organizing the Christian Coalition.
The greatest Romney advantage in the refigured GOP nomination process is the decision to allow for proportional delegate assignments from the state primaries. No more "winner take all." Most see this as helping Romney who can use his money to pick up delegates from every region. Even if he gets beat in some of the primaries and regions such as the South, he will keep adding to his aggregate total.
Romney has challenges to be sure. There is Romneycare, his Obama-like healthcare program for Massachusetts, which Romney championed as governor. It will dog him in the primaries. And his change of positions on some of the issues.
What it took to get elected governor in the Peoples Republic of Massachusetts won't do in most Republican primaries.
But the most controversial issue, his faith as a Latter Day Saint, seems to have been resolved in his favor within the GOP. He took his lumps last time around and most conservative evangelical fears on that subject seem to have passed.
Even more promising for Romney are signs of a growing rapprochement between conservative Mormons and evangelicals. The Mormons are coming to understand that they can't win a national election without those 48 percent of Americans who claim to be born-again Christians.
In 2008 I warned of an evangelical reaction and a Romney collapse in Iowa. But this time things are different. Romney has lowered the expectations in Iowa to zero. And he has good showings likely in Nevada and Arizona and New Hampshire as backups.
Romney's fundraising prowess, which speaks well of him as an executive, guarantees he will be in the fight for California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and other expensive campaign states. Being the establishment candidate has made the nominating process as friendly as he can expect.
The Obama campaign recognizes all of this, as demonstrated by their lawyers at work trying to block the fundraising of Romney's state PACs. Most of all, they read that poll last week, showing that if an election were held then, Mitt Romney would have beaten Barack Obama.
If Romney wins the nomination, expect a shrill and bitter battle, with the mighty elitist new media in top form, doing their best to influence the outcome. And be assured that nothing, including both candidates religious views, will be off limits.
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