Why Mitt Romney Faces Serious Challenges In Iowa

(embarrassing typo corrected - thanks JD)

He's ahead in the polls and there's a good chance he will win, but still, but ex-MA Gov. Mitt Romney faces serious challenges in Iowa. Here are six.

First, savvy consultants look at two numbers to project whether, if a particular election were held today, their candidate would win. One is the head to head -- and Mitt Romney still leads, narrowly, in Iowa polls. The second is the degree of intensity -- and here, Mike Huckabee's surge breaks over the walls that the Romney Iowa organization has spent so many months carefully building. Every consultant would rather be behind by five points in the head to head match ups and ahead by double digits in terms of the level of intensity.

Second: The national political press corps and conservative political elites, aided by Nachama Soloveichik, are beginning to scrutinize Mike Huckabee, and they finding out some astounding things. Did you know that his administration was regularly censured by state ethics boards? That Huckabee once worked as a director of advertising? He certainly has his work cut out for him in trying to explain away some of the less salutary aspects of his record (in the eyes of conservatives, anyway.) But the Iowa press corps -- print and TV -- and the national TV networks -- have yet to follow. Huckabee is still the darling of the Iowa media now, and, frankly, they'll decide collectively whether to turn on the scrutiny spigot. In Iowa, Huckabee is not getting the scrutiny that leading candidates generally get.

Third: social conservative single-issue voters seem to have decided, en masse, to coalesce around Huckabee and use Iowa to prove to the world that they still matter in the Republican Party and are tired of being taken advantage of. This dynamic, which Republican operatives working for all candidates perceive, is hard to break. And Huckabee can run what would be, in effect, an anti-Mormon campaign solely by legitimately appealing to evangelicals' identity interests.

Fourth: Huckabee, by dint of his natural temperament, his preaching background or his skills as an ad man, is a more compelling, more engaging public personality that Romney. As TV coverage of the race ramps up, this matters. That said, Romney works a crowd better than Huckabee does. Also, the Romney family is beloved by Romney's volunteers in Iowa and is an undeniable asset.

Fifth: Romney's strategy was surely the only correct one for his campaign. But either his strategists did not count on running up the score in Iowa so early or the press did not give Romney due credit for chasing three rivals out of Ames entirely and beating Huckabee (aided by the FairTaxers) by double digits. The result: Romney, for some reason, just absolutely has to win Iowa or else his chances for winning the nomination are finished. Empirically, this is nonsense. Romney has unlimited resources and is the only campaign right now that has the capacity to challenge Giuliani through January and into February.

Sixth: Timing. For all intents and purposes, the race in Iowa ends before Christmas. Probably the week before Christmas. Romney has little time to mount a counter-offensive. And the ramifications of going negative against Huckabee are unclear.

None of the above is to suggest that Romney is going to lose Iowa. But it does suggest that, at a minimum, that victory is not assured. Romney's organizational is real and impressive, and note that Huckabee's rise has not, so far, come at Romney's expense.