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Is Romney the Hillary of 2012?

At Politico, Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman make the case that Mitt Romney is following the same path as Hillary Clinton’s doomed campaign four years ago.

Like the great, fallen front-runner of 2008, here is another well-funded, establishment-blessed, presumptive nominee whose supposedly firm hold on his party’s greatest prize seems to be slip-sliding away.

Smith and Haberman go on to outline some of the most striking similarities:

*Like Clinton’s stance on the Iraq War authorization, Romney premised his campaign on an early and crucial decision not to apologize for what some partisans see as a fatal flaw: the health care mandate.

*Like Clinton, Romney has found it almost impossible to play halfway in Iowa, which has emerged as an inevitable test for the front-runner.

*Like Clinton, Romney has abruptly dropped any pretense to be above the fray, punching hard at Gingrich after the former House speaker raced by him in the polls.

*And most striking of all, Romney’s campaign, like Clinton’s – driven by raw political necessity – has smashed personal red lines the candidate spent decades erecting, racing to humanize a distant and sometimes awkward politician with tales from his time as a Mormon lay pastor.

It is a decent analogy once you start thinking about it: the concerns over their “likability”; the sense that everything they say or do is focus-group tested and scripted to the last detail; and their difficulty connecting with their party base. Both of them also had well-honed operations that would allow them to fight hard in the later primary states.

The most significant difference, of course, is their opponents. Politico points out that the Gingrich campaign has nowhere near the level of late-state primary organization that the Obama campaign had in 2008:

Romney’s organization may not be even as extensive as Clinton’s, but the sum of his rivals’ presence in the later states is – with a single exception – zero. The exception is Rep. Ron Paul, whose supporters have already taken over obscure local party organizations, and who is poised to take the unheralded caucus delegates Obama received in 2008, denying them to the front-runner – but also closing the space for a well-organized underdog with broader appeal.

Romney may well be the Clinton of 2012 – but allies argue that Clinton would have beaten a candidate with Gingrich’s organization, a boast that may bode well for the former Massachusetts governor.

Obama was also able to fake the part of a centrist reformer, which made him nearly as attractive to independent voters as he was to Democrats and progressives. As much as Clinton supporters moaned that Obama was unelectable in a general election, Republicans would have much preferred going up against her instead.

Unlike Obama, Gingrich is actually a centrist is many ways. But he has a bomb-throwing personality and partisan history that independent voters may find off-putting. Democrats would relish the idea of running against Gingrich instead of Romney in 2012. And that’s the point Romney will need to drive home if he wants to avoid following in Hillary’s footsteps.



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