Can Romney win?

Shortly after Mitt Romney’s official announcement he would run for the Republican nomination for 2012, some polls put the government in a very competitive race against Barack Obama for the White House. One survey showed Romney leading, and most others paint him as a serious challenger to Obama. Romney also has a solid lead over his fellow Republican aspirants.

From the outset, many Republican veterans have given Romney the advantage based on the decades-old tradition of choosing the runner-up from the previous race. Romney is far from a sure bet, but he is experienced and has some serious financial backing. Moreover, the rest of the field is weak by comparison at this stage in the race.

The race is only beginning and potential new candidates, such as former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, Michelle Bachmann, and, less likely, Sarah Palin, are bound to surface and make this race more unpredictable and more competitive. The GOP has many constituencies—social conservatives, Tea Partiers, libertarians, neo-conservatives—and with the economy showing slow growth and high unemployment, it seems none of them will dominate the eventual choice. Anti-Obama sentiment and the obsession with making him a one-term president will likely be the unifying force when it comes to choosing the next nominee.

A potential Romney candidacy has some advantages for the GOP. Notwithstanding Donald Trump ‘s assessment, Romney has been a successful businessman and did help save the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. His one term as governor of Massachusetts was highlighted by what most acknowledge was a successful healthcare reform effort.

Obama often reminds voters that his healthcare reform is nearly identical to Romney’s in that each imposes a mandate on the uninsured—which the Republicans have pledged to repeal and have contested in the courts—and each plan provides for universal health care. Romney counters that his reform is a state reform that was not meant to be extended nationally. Go figure what Romney is saying here—apparently, what many consider the second-best healthcare system in the country should not be implemented in other states. The argument is not very compelling.

The biggest barrier to his candidacy has a lot to do with his failed 2008 campaign and his flip-flopping on essential social conservative issues such as abortion and gay rights. There’s a perception Romney lacks authenticity on these matters, and it has come to dog his candidacy.

Romney is also bound to encounter resistance from social conservatives because of his Mormon faith. My sense is this will be less an issue with the electorate at large. Romney, anticipating some pushback from the religious right in the GOP primaries, has opted to stay out of Iowa’s straw poll scheduled for later this summer.

The early favourite in the Republican race is Romney, but winning the nomination does not make a president. Sure, the economy will be a key, perhaps decisive, factor, but the American voter still values character. Therein lies Romney’s biggest challenge.

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