Opponents say that Mitt Romney is in a “tailspin,” or that he is “flailing,” or that his pathway to the nomination has somehow been blocked by the gravity-generated bodies of John McCain and Mike Huckabee.

It’s clear that John McCain has edged up a few points in New Hampshire ( in part because Rudy Giuliani has pulled out and those voters are shifting back to McCain) and that Mike Huckabee has a polling lead in Iowa.

But Romney’s support in both states hasn’t bottomed out; he’s standing on a solidly built platform of what his campaign now likes to call “full spectrum” conservative Republicans, and he has been disqualified by no means. This is important, I think. Romney’s big problem is that his claim to the mantle of “conservative leader” is new -- he was always more conservative than his public image would attest to, but he never really embraced it -- and a bit synthetic, and he has never been identified with a single cause or a single attribute. (Think: McCain = the war, or apostasy; Giuliani: 9/11, or personal life problems; Huckabee: evangelical; Tancredo: immigration.)

The campaign tried to find a single cause but wound up looking like the guy who tries on lots of sweaters at the department store: some fit (fiscal conservative, veto-man), some don’t (immigration) -- none is blockbuster.

But his big asset is that, aside from anti-Mormon bigots, he’s still in the running -- he still draws second-choice voters; he has plenty of money; he is a supporting player in the stories right now. In Iowa and New Hampshire; he seems to be on the rise in some of the other early states. If he wins Iowa and New Hampshire -- not sure things, but not unbelievable, either -- he's probably going to win the nomination.

The Christmas break was good for Romney, if only because it allowed him to get out of his own way. The MLK march gaffe was both silly, from an empirical perspective, because Romney probably relied on hazy childhood memory and didn’t filter his thoughts -- and damaging, in that it occupied about 72 hours of campaign time.

Now -- the unprecedented personal attacks from two New Hampshire newspapers are kind of stunning and will serve to focus on the attention on Romney for the next few days…. But the world is his candy corn, and more than Huck or McCain, Romney determines Romney’s fate.

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