Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post thinks the Republican presidential field is starting to take shape (or else he just needed something to write about). Cillizza sees Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Tim Pawlenty as probably in the field, with Haley Barbour another possibility. Barbour’s quip that “if you see me lose 40 pounds, I’m either running or have cancer” makes me think he’d be an entertaining entry.
In 2007-08, I was well disposed to Romney’s candidacy. If he had made it to the Maryland primary, I would have voted for him. But because he did not make it that far, I’m lukewarm on Romney this time around.
Looking back, Romney’s 2008 campaign seems truly dreadful. If I recall, he won only one primary (as opposed to caucus) and he won that one — Michigan — only because John McCain offered way too much straight talk about the future of the automobile industry.
Romney’s candidacy looks even worse when you consider how weak the field was. McCain was unpopular with much of the Republican base and had been essentially written off in the summer of 2007. Mike Huckabee, who was also considered a non-starter in the summer of 2007, also proved more formidable than Romney.
The suspicion must therefore arise that, If Romney wasn’t appealing enough to make at least a strong run for the nomination in 2008, he isn’t appealing enough to bear the Republican standard against President Obama in 2012.
With this in mind, I tried to pay careful attention to Romney’s speech before CPAC last week. I confess that he sounded good to me. But then, he sounded good to me in 2007. The issue is whether he can now connect with rank-and-file voters — the ones who rejected him so decisively last time.
My impression from the CPAC speech is that Romney has improved in this respect. He seemed a bit less stiff and artificial. Ben Smith of Politico had the same reaction. He saw in Romney “a more constant, seasoned, and comfortable figure, one whose applause lines match up more closely with his record.”
Whether Romney has gotten to where he’ll need to be is another question, But except for the fun of it, there’s no real reason to obsess about that question now. The drawn out process the parties go through before nominating a candidate will tell us most of what we need to know about Romney’s ability to connect with the electorate this time around.
Meanwhile, you can watch the first part of Romney’s speech and speculate for yourself.
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