With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) choosing to stay in the Garden State rather than roll into the Rose Garden, President Obama will now lock down on other likely foes.
When conservatives lost any hope of Christie entering the 2012 GOP presidential nomination race on Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gained more prominence. He’s closer to wearing the title “presumptive presidential nominee” from the GOP – with the added burden of an Obama-sized target on his back from the White House.
The perfect storm for the presidential nomination has been coming into form for Romney. With the non-factor of Governor Christie as a candidate comes the increasingly frantic pace of states moving up their GOP primary election dates. Republicans want this done and over with. The positioning of the former Massachusetts governor at the top of the most recent Washington Post poll is doubly important when keeping in mind that his main gubernatorial competition (Governor Rick Perry of Texas) is struggling to fend off the surge of conservative grassroots favorite Herman Cain.
If the primary season continues to creep forward with state primaries threatening to yield a presumptive Republican candidate before we even know the teams in February’s Super Bowl, the only candidate that benefits from Christie’s bow-out is Romney. He is currently ahead in Iowa – a state where he has invested little resources at this point due to his image as a moderate – while Florida currently shows him leading for the primary and New Hampshire is a lock.
If things continue to play out as they have – with Rep. Michele Bachmann continually diluting her support from conservatives with a constant barrage of half-truths and Governor Perry’s on-going inability to fend off criticism for major inconsistencies in his record– Romney will be the Republican to beat in November 2012.
Trust me, President Obama and his team have already noticed.
As such, nothing will surprise me coming out of the Obama re-election camp in the coming weeks, particularly building up to or around the December 1 debate in Arizona that could prove to be a solidifying event for the Romney campaign. With another strong performance by the current Republican front-runner in a controversial state that is home to a lot of different hot-button national issues (including illegal immigration), Romney would stand to run the table of primary wins, leaving the Obama re-election campaign no choice but to play their hand and target Romney hard before New Year’s Day 2012.
And, to be fair, it would be a sound tragedy considering the uphill battle the president has to win next year.
The president rightfully acknowledges that he will likely be the “underdog” going into Election Night 2012 due to the economy, unemployment, and a string of broken promises directly contrasting the “hope and change” feelings from the 2008 campaign sensation. Creating the momentum against Romney – a candidate not even close to being Tea Party enough for the president to vilify him as such with independents – will be rough.
Getting a head start will be the only possible tactic the White House can take. They will need to find a way to chip away at an opponent whose weaknesses were parlayed 4 years ago to the point of relative ineffectiveness now. They will need to find a way to make a Republican governor (from one of the most liberal states in the union, no less) seem incapable or unwilling to work with divided government in Washington for the sake of getting sound results for America. They will need to find a way to make the general election about the disparities in the Republican nominee’s record instead of being about the disappointment of Americans in “change we can believe in” since January 2009 – change that included a failed stimulus, a tenuous process to usher in health care reform, and a more disjointed American society overall. If the president and his campaign leadership attempt to wait until a Republican nominee can see the Tampa convention clearly in his sight, it will be too late.
Christie’s refusal to run has indeed made the race a two-person race, but those thinking this is now going to boil down to Romney and Perry are missing a point that President Obama, a bona fide campaign strategist, has not. This is now a two-man race, for sure, but as you will see from the political attacks set to blast from the White House, it’s not a race about Perry and Romney. It’s a race between Romney and Obama.
Lenny McAllister is a political commentator found Saturdays with host TJ Holmes and fellow pundit Maria Cardona on “CNN Saturday Morning” at 10:30 AM Eastern (9:30 Central / 7:30 AM Pacific.)