Mitt Romney's Feb. 5 Strategy

Mitt Romney's advisers now have their final blitz mapped out. Confront McCain squarely on his past record. Play up, subtly, the generational differences between the two candidates. Put the fear of God in activists. “We’ll fight for another week and hope the conservatives realize they have to come together or have McCain as their nominee."

The strategy eschews big states and concentrates on smaller states where the delegate selection processes favor conservatives. They include Colorado, a caucus state, West Virginia, Alaska (which is why Romney mentioned McCain's support for ANWR drilling last night), and Oklahoma and Georgia, two states where delegates can be extracted from congressional districts.

The goal is to minimize the delegate gulf between McCain and Romney headed out of Feb 5 and give Romney a pretext to continue to campaign if McCain suddenly falters.

Romney's chief strategist, Alex Gage, writes in a memo obtained by this column that only a small shift among conservatives in many states could swing a whole lot of momentum towards Romney.

As we move towards February 5th, it’s worth taking a close look back at exit polling from the past few primaries. The coalitions that John McCain assembled in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida have been strikingly similar—and are strikingly tenuous. Public polling shows McCain ahead in many states, but we are now in a two-man race and a few points’ movement among conservatives is all that’s needed to tip the scales in favor of Gov. Romney.
In all three states where he was victorious, McCain’s margin of victory rested on moderates, self identified independents, and voters who disapprove of the Bush administration. None of these
groups is a majority of the Republican electorate. In fact, every GOP primary this year has been
at least 55% conservative, 61% Republican, and 50% supportive of the Bush administration—
explaining why McCain has failed to win more than 36% of the vote in any of them.

The McCain formula for success worked in a divided field when conservatives was fractured, but
even a small coalescence of conservatives around Gov. Romney would reveal his
support as a coalition too small to win the nomination of the Republican party.

Conservatives, self-identified Republicans, and voters who approve of President Bush are likely to be majorities of the electorate in all of the February 5th states. It is therefore easy to see how
we defeat McCain in a two-main race by focusing on traditional Republican primary voters.
We still have an uphill battle in front of us—the mainstream media is ready to anoint John McCain and he will have advantages in many states from running for president for the past eight years— but Gov. Romney has a clear path to victory on February 5th and beyond.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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