Romney Will be on the Defensive in Weekend Debates

Friday, 06 Jan 2012 03:03 PM

By Dan Weil

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Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has received relatively mild treatment from his adversaries in the debates so far. But that’s likely to change in the two verbal bouts this weekend, Politico reports.

Now that he’s won the Iowa caucuses and looks poised to clean up in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, the former Massachusetts governor’s opponents are likely to go after him hook, line, and sinker.

That position should give Romney a feeling of déjà vu, as he faced quite an onslaught when he was the front-runner in the 2008 presidential race.

“In 2008, he found himself in the middle of a circular firing squad ... and it really put him on an uncomfortable defensive posture throughout the whole debate,” Rich Killion, a New Hampshire-based strategist who is neutral in the race, told Politico. “Truly, this [weekend], he could be seeing two or three candidates come at him.”

Chip Saltsman, Mike Huckabee’s 2008 campaign manager, agrees. “Gov. Romney has been this nominal front-runner from the get-go, yet he’s not been anybody’s big target in the debates,” Saltsman told Politico. “We’re gonna see that change this weekend, and now these guys are making the decision.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich already is attacking Romney hard for the bevy of negative ads his side produced in Iowa. Gingrich speaks of the “timid Massachusetts moderate,” and you can bet he won’t let up in the debates.

Unlike Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum doesn’t appear to hold any animus against Romney, but he has taken on the  front-runner in previous debates. He just didn’t get much air time. But he will now.

Both Gingrich and Santorum are strong debaters who enjoy a spirited argument, so sparks could fly.

Not all of the attacks against Romney will be personal, Saltsman pointed out. “Nobody likes the guy in front of them,” he said. “You can be nice to him, but nobody likes the guy out front. [Huckabee’s campaign] certainly four years ago [was] always very friendly and always had a good relationship with John McCain, but I can tell you, after he beat us in South Carolina, I didn’t feel so friendly.”

One silver lining for Romney: Santorum and Gingrich already have started sniping at each other. So they may direct a bit of their focus at one another during the debates.


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