Like the nuclear bombs exploded in the Nevada desert during the Cold War, a “Newt bomb” could be exploding all across Mitt Romney’s Nevada voting base, leading to a potential ground-shaking upset in Nevada.
Newt Gingrich’s sudden launch to the top of the polls has some pundits calling him the latest joy ride of frustrated conservatives looking for a viable alternative to Romney.
Yet the Gingrich surge might be for real, and he might very well demonstrate this right here in Nevada.
The paramount difference between Newt and those who previously romanced conservatives is that Gingrich is actually capable of holding his lead. Where Rep. Michele Bachmann, Gov. Rick Perry and Herman Cain faltered badly, Gingrich can sustain himself.
Bachmann lacks depth and slips on facts; Gingrich is defined by substance and command of issues and history.
While Perry performs poorly under the pressure of televised debates, Gingrich is at ease in the national spotlight. The prospect of debates between Gingrich and President Obama has many Republicans gleeful in anticipation.
Despite his brief moment in the top tier, Cain and his unprepared campaign team wilted under media scrutiny, bumbling their way through sexual harassment allegations. Plus, they failed to effectively communicate the ramifications of their 9-9-9 tax reform proposal. A great communicator and skillful strategist, Gingrich was the architect of the 1994 Republican takeover of the House. He’s been under media scrutiny for more than 20 years and still stands strong.
Gingrich is an accomplished conservative. As House speaker, he was responsible for balancing the country’s budget, even threatening a government shutdown to force greater fiduciary responsibility. His is consistently to the right on government spending, national defense, free trade and social issues. His 15 percent flat tax is lower than Perry’s proposal of 20 percent and doesn’t create a national sales tax like Cain’s gimmicky 9-9-9. He satisfies what conservatives are looking for nationally, and he satisfies Nevada’s unique breed of conservatives, who have a libertarian bent.
Meanwhile, Romney’s 25 percent support among Republicans nationally is a stone ceiling which he hasn’t been able to break. His claims to the conservative mantle are ignored by the Right who all too well know of his flip-flops on core issues such as abortion and global warming; RomneyCare remains his personal albatross.
Romney, with 51 percent, cleaned house in the largely-ignored-by-the-other-Republican-candidates Nevada caucus in 2008.
And while he’s currently the odds-on favorite, there’s no guarantee of an encore performance in 2012. Perry stumbled quickly, but his entry into the race revealed that Romney’s support in Nevada doesn’t run deep; by merely announcing his candidacy, Perry surged ahead of Romney in Nevada.
Additionally, Romney’s 2008 win included relying on the Mormon vote, a vote which is as maxed out as Uncle Sam’s credit card. Mormons effectively doubled what their actual voter registration numbers would suggest in 2008 for Romney, and with more competition in the state this time, the Mormon vote will be diluted, favoring the surging candidate, Newt.
Plus, Romney’s strong showing in 2008 creates an expectation that may prove difficult to meet: A narrow win, or worse, a second-place finish, will reveal a campaign that’s in trouble.
A shrewd businessman, Romney knows that running up the tab in Nevada for a smaller margin suggests a declining business model.
Although some candidates will skip Nevada for what they perceive are more important states, Gingrich would be wise to invest in the low-risk, high-reward state. He will gain the additional advantage of setting up for the general election, would could prove to be tight, and a combination of states that include Nevada could make the difference.
It is still early.
At this point in the presidential campaign cycle in 2008, Rudy Giuliani was in first, and we know how that movie ended. Yet if Newt can hold his lead nationally, we will see his numbers expand in other states as he builds momentum. He is already first in Iowa and New Hampshire in some polls.
Republicans are searching for a candidate they can fall in love with all over again. Newt could be their guy, and Las Vegas could be the place they tie the knot.
Garrett Biggs and Todd Blair are Republican political consultants based in the southwestern United States. Email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.