Mitt Romney Is 2012's Hillary Clinton

Playing it safe as the frontrunner is how Clinton lost the 2008 Democratic primary

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Some Republicans are blaming Mitt Romney for Rick Perry's entry into the 2012 race because the former Massachusetts governor has been running a relaxed, low-intensity campaign, The Hill's Michael O'Brien reports. Romney has had a light schedule of public appearances, concentrating on raising money instead -- and in general election swing states like Ohio instead of key primary states like Iowa. "If Romney had been more aggressive, some Republicans say, he might have discouraged Perry and dispelled the continuous murmurs of additional candidates who might enter the race," O'Brien writes. NBC News' First Read says Romney's strategy for protecting his frontrunnerhood has had mixed results--and it looks a bit like Hillary Clinton's last presidential election. That didn't work out so well for her.

O'Brien summarizes the Romney campaign's thinking:
The campaign's logic has been transparent from the outset: it has always believed that by setting a later start day and by having a more relaxed schedule, it would minimize public fatigue of Romney, and limit the rate at which the staff would burn through its fundraising, allowing Romney to stockpile cash instead.
"Right now, your greatest enemy is overexposure. People get tired of seeing the same person day in and day out," [Romney] said in early June on CNN. "And until Labor Day hits, I'm going to be pretty quiet."
But now Republicans--like top strategist Mark McKinnon and Rep. Joe Wilson, for example--say Romney erred on the side of underexposure, O'Brien writes. And Romney's looked wobbly, First Read writes: "Just like the Dow over the past couple of weeks, perceptions about Mitt Romney's strength as the GOP front-runner have gone up and down this summer. At times (his fundraising, his performance so far at the debates, and his laser-like focus on the economy), Romney looks like he’s the nominee-in-waiting. But at other times, he appears vulnerable."
Granted, Romney is the only Republican who gets more votes than President Obama in a hypothetical general election contest, according to a new Gallup poll. And, as National Journal reported this week, Romney is avoiding attacking Perry, trying to look above the fray ("In boxing, you don’t fight beneath your weight class," a member of Romney's national leadership team explained). But as Perry adviser told The Hill, "You've got to win a primary first before you get to the big dance." Clinton was polling quite well in 2007, too.
Way back in September 2007, First Read wrote that during a primary debate, Clinton also looked above it all. 
Overall, though, no one landed a blow on her, and at this point in the game, that's how these debates have to be judged. In a way, she reminded us of one of those Dean Smith teams playing "four corners" or "stall ball" -- by playing it extremely safe. This is what a front-runner does: protects a lead. But if she were being judged on actually answering the questions she was asked, she'd get the lowest marks among those on the stage. 
As the Obama campaign looked weak in the months before the Iowa caucuses of 2008, there were tons of warnings that though Clinton looked strong, she was awfully cautious. After a town hall in June 2007, Ron Brownstein warned:
The most worrisome sign for Clinton at the meeting was her own caution. ... With such timidity, Clinton risks sharpening one of her detractors' best weapons - the charge that calculation, not conviction, is her compass. Front-runners dislike risk, but in her case, the riskiest move might be playing it safe.
Speaking of Clinton's cautious views on major policy issues, a voter told the New York Daily News in June 2007 "She's always taken the safe track." In October 2007, The New York Times' Gail Collins warned Clinton, "It is possible to be so careful that you drive everybody crazy." Right now, it looks like Republicans frustrated with Romney feel the same way.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.