Romney's Campaign Sparks Memories of Hillary’s 2008 Bid

Tuesday, 13 Dec 2011 11:27 AM

By Dan Weil

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The presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney carries some eerie similarities to that of Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic race, Politico reports.

Both came into their campaigns as nearly prohibitive front-runners with the support of the party’s establishment. But then unexpected challengers rose up to threaten them – Barack Obama in Clinton’s case and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in Romney’s case.

Now the question for Romney is can he beat back the Gingrich challenge, or will he end up a loser like Clinton in 2008?

Politico listed four specific similarities between the two – all negative.

1. Clinton had to deal with her Senate vote to authorize the Iraq war – anathema to the Democratic faithful – just as Romney now has to deal with his implementation of healthcare reform in Massachusetts that resembled Obama’s reform plan.

2. Both candidates have been unable to ignore the Iowa caucuses, making the vote a key test. Obama won Iowa in 2008, and Gingrich may do likewise next year.

3. Both have had to drop their pose of being above the fray. Romney has attacked Gingrich hard after his opponent eclipsed him in the polls.

4. Both have had to open up personally more than planned. Romney is now talking about his work as a Mormon missionary and lay pastor.

Four years ago, “They never planned to go negative in the Hillary campaign, because they planned to be winning it,” former New York Gov. David Paterson, a frequent Clinton spokesman in 2008, told Politico.

“I don’t think that the Romney people ever thought that somebody would get up a head of steam like Gingrich. And . . . when you go negative, you have to plan it. You don’t want to go too negative. What happened with Sen. Clinton, when they went negative, it came across as being more personal and more obvious, and here with Romney, yes, it is similar. ”

A handful of former Clinton aides echoed Paterson’s thoughts in interviews with Politico. “When the [Des Moines register poll] came out showing Romney in third, I actually had a shot of PTSD, [post-traumatic stress disorder]” one of them said.

“Four years ago, the biggest factor was opposition to Bush, and Obama skillfully managed to paint Hillary as timid on Bush. . . . Now the biggest thing is hatred of Obama, and Gingrich . . . makes Romney seem timid, or he seems it himself. So that’s why Romney is in the box of being third in Iowa. And counting on a New Hampshire firewall, that is shrinking away.”

Like Clinton, Romney has run a cautious campaign. He isn’t sitting down for his first Sunday talk-show interview until this weekend, with Fox News’s Chris Wallace.

Both candidates made key mistakes in a debate. In 2007, Clinton’s confusing answer to a question about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants opened her to attacks that she shifted her views with the political winds. And Romney’s challenge to Rick Perry Saturday for a $10,000 bet has allowed critics to paint him as being out of touch.

To be sure, there are differences between the two campaigns. Clinton faced an opponent in Obama who may have been one of the strongest candidates in U.S. history. No one is going to say that about Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, or Herman Cain. And even the staying power of Gingrich is a question mark at this point.

“What failed for Hillary still might work for Mitt,” one former Clinton supporter told Politico. “The GOP race in 2012 is far more volatile, and Gingrich is especially prone to self-destruction, so Mitt’s ‘Last Man Standing’ strategy might work. There was never a realistic chance that Obama would self-destruct: Nothing in his record or rhetoric or background or temperament. Newt is the opposite.”

Romney also doesn’t have to worry about an opposition campaign that is as well organized as what Clinton faced in Obama. With the exception of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has virtually no chance of winning the nomination, Romney is the only candidate who has any presence in the late primary states. Clinton allies argue that she would have defeated a candidate with Gingrich’s organization.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a strong supporter of Clinton in 2008, argues that a loss for Romney in Iowa may not prove as damaging to his candidacy as Clinton’s loss there in 2008 did to hers.

“There is a parallel in terms of front-runner in Iowa, where she lost that status,” Rendell told Politico. “But I think the reasons for the loss of the front-runner status are a bit different.”

The real issue is whether Romney can “bounce back in New Hampshire,” he said.

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