Mitt Romney has an excellent shot at winning the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday — and a major lead heading into the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary. If he wins both contests, the former governor of deep-blue Massachusetts would all but sew up the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Somehow an increasingly conservative Republican Party that has flirted with and rejected a number of thoroughly conservative candidates seems ready to settle on a slightly robotic, flip-flopping, super-wealthy, unreliably conservative Mormon. How on earth did Romney pull that off? Here, five keys to Romney's success:
1. Second time's the charm
Romney and Ron Paul are the only candidates in this field who have run for president before, and the GOP tends to pick the next guy in line for the nomination. Aides insist that "Romney's loss in 2008 taught him a lot," says Roger Simon at Politico, namely when and how to engage opponents and use his massive campaign war chest. That said, money may not even be the pivotal factor in a victory on Tuesday. If Romney wins in Iowa, he could do it "merely by activating the organization he built [there] for his 2008 presidential campaign," says Holly Bailey at Yahoo.
2. Romney convinced voters he's the best "Obama toppler"
Another big advantage of having run before: Romney doesn't have to introduce himself to voters — he can be a "singularly focused, Obama-destroying machine," says Michael Scherer at TIME. Mitt delivers his "single-minded message" in short, declarative slogans that "slice the air with the flashy precision of a fruit ninja." And his audiences "eat it up." Romney is winning because "no other candidate has yet shown that he or she can compete with Romney's general election competitiveness." More than anything, Republicans "want to win. And Romney seems to have Obama's number."
3. He avoided the GOP "circular firing squad"
Romney has been able to focus on Obama because his GOP rivals have puzzlingly spared him "the kind of withering attacks that normally confront a frontrunner," says Alex Roarty at National Journal, sniping at each other instead. "As they form a circular firing squad, Romney stepped back." Not that his hands are entirely clean, says Politico's Simon. Mitt's done his part to attack the only two candidates who "might have blocked Romney’s path to victory" in Iowa: Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry.
4. Mitt modeled his campaign on "Styrofoam"
"Passionless, but not hollow, his campaign has been as buoyant as Styrofoam," says Alex Castellanos at CNN, and like Styrofoam, it's "light but stronger than it looks." It's "hard to love but, for the same reason, hard to hate." And it floats no matter how dinged up it gets. And Romney's strategy should work as well against Obama as it has against his GOP rivals.
5. He's getting help from his super-PAC friends
Romney hasn't landed at "the front of the Republican pack at precisely the right moment on gee-whiz alone," says Patricia Murphy at The Daily Beast. Mitt's "perfectly timed rise" is largely due to Gingrich's sudden, hard fall — a collapse engineered in no small way by $3 million worth of attack ads from a Romney-aligned super-PAC called "Restore Our Future." That group's "efforts helped to solidify Romney's position atop the field while providing him an arm's length distance from the negativity," says Paul Blumenthal at The Huffington Post. Super-PACs "have come to dominate not just the Iowa contest, but the entire Republican primary season." And the biggest-spending super-PACs are siding with Romney, who's also the biggest-spending candidate. That has only "increased the disparity in spending among the candidates."