Gage notes that three “small state” governors like Romney — Jimmy Carter of Georgia, Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts and Bill Clinton of Arkansas — were all lower in polling at a similar point in their races. In 1975, Carter was at a mere 1 percent in a Gallup survey. Dukakis matched that level of support in 1987. Clinton boasted a whopping 2 percent in 1991. Romney, as Gage points out, is at an “impressive” 5 percent in the most recent Gallup poll. ~Chris Cillizza
Since no Romney-related news can be circulating for long without my negative interpretation, here it is: Romney’s position isn’t so much “impressive” as it is proof that he probably isn’t the candidate who will be coming out of nowhere to snatch the nomination. Isn’t it rather obvious that, given the Carter-Dukakis-Clinton precedents, Romney’s success in polling higher than 1-2% right now suggests that it will be some other candidate, currently running at 1-2%, that will come from behind and beat out the top three favourites? These precedents for small-state governors ought to give Huckabee a lot of hope (no pun intended–really!). In this sense, you might say that Romney is actually performing too well too early, drawing all of the press coverage that is dealing him so many blows before he can really get off the ground.
Instead of sneaking up on the pack through a focus on organisation and grassroots work (as opposed to the high-profile appearances and interviews he has been doing), he has been striding through open fields telling everyone who will listen that he is the social conservatives’ candidate. This allows his conservative rivals to snipe at him, while also exposing him to the full scrutiny of the press at a stage when they can still smother his candidacy in its crib.
Update: Via Hotline, Gage’s memo also says:
It’s also useful to remember that John McCain was unknown on the national stage in the spring of 1999, polling at just 3%, and didn’t begin to attract any significant support until late October.
That is useful, because it suggests that Romney’s campaign may most closely resemble the 1999-2000 McCain campaign in terms of its political strength (except, instead of the Straight Talk Express, we are being treated to the Confusing Talk Merry-Go-Round). That means that Romney might continue to hang on in the top two or three, but will ultimately fail. However, even this comparison may be inaccurate, since McCain had absurdly good press and he did manage to win in New Hampshire, while Romney gets routinely bad press (because he is a fraud) and will have a lot of problems running in New Hampshire. People in New Hampshire don’t have to go very far to find out what other people think of Romney’s skills in government (hint: most people living in Massachusetts in the last few years are actually pretty unimpressed), and they have been exposed through local media to Romney’s “evolution” firsthand. If any state in the nation will punish Romney for being a flip-flopper, it will be the Granite State.