Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fashioned as President: Rick Perry's Mismatched Campaign


WAVERLY, IA. – Cole Chestnut, Matt Mummelthei, and Jake Englin are caucusing for the first time this January. After their Waverly High School basketball scrimmage concluded yesterday afternoon, the three self-described political enthusiasts decided to head over to "The Flying Goat" bar and grill to check out Texas Governor Rick Perry. In one booth inside the dimly-lit restaurant, an elderly retired science teacher and his wife, both torn between Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, made the trip from their nearby rural community and expressed excitement about the upcoming vote.


In sharp contrast with fellow social conservative Michele Bachmann, Perry is drawing good crowds across Iowa, and enthusiastic ones at that. A recent poll from NBC News has Perry in an effective tie for third place in Iowa with Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, but his support seems largely apolitical. A mom and dad from Kansas City, Missouri in town to visit their daughter at local Wartburg College couldn't resist the opportunity to meet the Governor, but their attraction to the candidate had the distinctive air of celebrity curiosity as opposed to electoral affinity. So too, one gets the impression from Perry's handlers that he's a movie star, not a politician.


I last visited with Rick Perry back in October in New Hampshire, when I expressed the opinion that his aggressive security detail was a mismatch for intimate early voting states. Two months later, as Perry's campaign remains on life support and needs a strong finish in Iowa to remain viable, not much has changed. Only Perry's grown daughter, Sydney, seemed aware of the downsides of her father's bodyguards pushing aside the press, who in turn ended up in the laps of little old ladies that complained they couldn't see, let alone "meet and greet," the Governor as he was ushered down a narrow aisle of the restaurant.


Maybe this is the only way the Perry campaign could have conducted itself. At one point in his stump speech, Perry noted that Texas is the world's thirteenth largest economy, and perhaps such a prominent political figure requires a constant security presence, but the one who's ultimately hurt by that unfriendly atmosphere is the Governor himself, whose true charm shines through when meeting with voters one-on-one. 

Unlike his opponents, Perry now utilizes a leather folder filled with talking points to aide his short stump speech. This subtle touch helped make that opening segment of the campaign stop easily his strongest, but when it came time to answer questions from the audience, Perry's tangled rhetoric that foiled him in debates earlier this year reemerged. Some things you just can't change.


Some say the ticket to a successful campaign is to pick a strategy and stick with it. Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman fall firmly into this category and, to an extent, both have begun to see the benefits of holding their course. Other candidates haven't been afraid to rebrand their campaigns as the market changes or their initial strategies meet stiff resistance. Mitt Romney, whose 2008 strategy of rigorous town hall meeting appearances and a substantial monetary investment in Iowa has had a noticeably smaller presence in the state and could very well be on the verge of sewing up the nomination. No one approach is necessarily better than the other, but with the majority of his tumultuous campaign now behind him, Perry ought to have realized he fell in that latter camp months ago, and changed course.

Quickly shuttled from event to event and cushioned from voters by his own staff, Rick Perry may well be the most presidential-looking candidate to fall short of his party's nomination.

Bachmann's Closing Window

MARSHALLTOWN, IA. – Michele Bachmann hasn’t been rocked by scandal, personal or political. Few of her supporters whisper about any unsavory revelations they’re afraid could emerge in coming months. Even Bachmann’s confusion over which state started the American Revolution ended up as fodder for liberal media and was overlooked by most conservatives. In spite of all of this, Bachmann has suffered two high-profile defections from her campaign at crucial moments.


The first occurred in late October, when the Congresswoman’s New Hampshire staff quit in protest of a perceived lack of seriousness in Bachmann’s effects to succeed in the state, as well as charges that her national staff were unresponsive and, according to the staff’s joint public statement:
"The manner in which some in the national team conducted themselves towards Team NH was rude, unprofessional, dishonest, and at times cruel. But more concerning was how abrasive, discourteous, and dismissive some within the national team were towards many New Hampshire citizens." 
Bachmann would have had trouble regaining her footing in New Hampshire without this setback, but on the heels of a multi-day visit to the state in early October, the news further stunted the growth of whatever efforts were underway on her behalf. Not surprisingly, Bachmann hasn’t returned to the state since.


If Bachmann finishes in the middle of the pack in Iowa and decides her campaign is worth carrying on, she’ll be forced with the difficult decision of whether to revisit New Hampshire or instead spend a full two weeks in South Carolina drumming up support in advance of that state’s January 21st election. Bachmann’s campaign strategists have long maintained that the Iowa and South Carolina are states where she can succeed and gather steam before the campaign moves further afield, but her plan ignores the consequences of an abysmal finish in New Hampshire (can you say below Buddy Roemer?) and the subsequent lack of attention the national media will have for her.


Far from the Huntsman approach of skipping Iowa altogether, Bachmann initially viewed New Hampshire as a “competitive” state for her campaign, and she won’t so easily able to dismiss her results there after her unsuccessful pitch in the state. That challenging Iowa and South Carolina “path to the nomination” seems increasingly unlikely after Wednesday’s news that Bachmann’s Iowa co-director, Kent Sorenson, has resigned his position with the campaign and intends to caucus for none other than Ron Paul, who engaged in a long argument with Bachmann over foreign policy in the most recent debate.

Bachmann is the first candidate to begin hearing calls for her to suspend her campaign. Last night, reporters outside of Rick Santorum's evening campaign stop in Marshalltown (at the same restaurant where Bachmann had been the previous day) asked whether or not he would encourage Bachmann supporters to switch their allegiance to him in an effort to unite religious conservatives. Santorum graciously deflected the question, insisting he is courting the votes of all Iowans, but the answer was clear: Iowans have failed to coalesce around Bachmann, and the few strengths her campaign purports to still possess have all but dried up. I surveyed one table of elderly voters inside the Legends Bar and Grill after Bachmann's visit and asked if the candidate's roots in the state would benefit her come caucus day; the "hometown" girl wouldn't have been pleased with their lack of enthusiasm.


In the final days before Iowa, final judgment of the various candidates is handed down quickly and often cements powerful “closing narratives” in the minds of voters that they carry with them to the Caucus. For Bachmann’s social conservative opponent, Rick Santorum, it’s taken all of 48 hours for the media to anoint him a rising star in the Iowa contest as he rocketed into a competitive third place position (behind Romney and Paul) in new polls. For Bachmann, the embarrassing news surrounding Sorenson's departure and the strengthening media consensus that her campaign is in its final days could be the nail in the coffin for a candidate that desperately needs at least a third place Caucus finish, a result that seems increasingly unlikely she will achieve.

View the complete gallery from Bachmann's Marshalltown, Iowa visit in a full-screen slide show here.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Iowa Caucus Coverage

I'm wheels-down in Des Moines, Iowa, and within a few hours will be at my first event in the state since I watched John Edwards address his supporters at a Des Moines hotel ballroom after finishing 3rd in the 2008 Caucus.

Photos and event write-ups can be found here at the end of every day, but you can follow my travels across Iowa throughout the day on Twitter (@thecourier).

Whether you're a member of the media interested in freely sourcing my photography coverage, a voter who'd like to tell me why John Doe will win the Caucus, or merely a visitor to this site with a comment or question, please contact me at:

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ground Game: Campaign Signs and the Ron Paul Push

I count maybe fifty campaign signs in an hour’s drive around the town of Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Most are small and stand alone in nondescript yards. After a snowstorm or two, their cheap plastic typically wilts and the sign is left mangled, covered in road salt and muddy snow.


This election cycle, the more popular and seemingly more effective items are eight foot signs made of heavy plastic. Many are stapled to fence posts that delineate the barrier between public and private land along highways. Others stand alone in the wilderness supported by wooden frames.

At Evelyn Fogg’s MiniMart in Ringe, the Huntsman campaign has similarly utilized municipal land to aid their visibility efforts, and an eight-foot sign is on full display at the busy intersection of Route 202 and Highway 119. The store's owner says she has no intention of disturbing the sign, and everything is business as usual.


On a strip of Highway 202 just outside of Jaffrey, I spotted two large signs. One was for Mitt Romney, the other for Jon Huntsman. After a few minutes taking photos I was ready to drive off when a pickup truck pulled onto the shoulder, parking near the signs. Ron Paul supporters Jean Coutu and Warren Ojala had been driving around neighboring towns scoping out opportune locations to display their candidate's campaign materials.

Parked along the highway, one thing is clear immediately: Ron Paul supporters aren't afraid to make themselves heard, and a number of passing drivers honked their horns, to which Couto and Ojala pumped their fists and cheered.

Well aware of the lay of the land as it pertains to placing signs in the state, Coutu spoke about confusion in the nearby town of Keene, where he claimed Ron Paul signs had been wrongfully dismantled. He noted a court case and a judicial precedent that supports his assertion, but Coutu doesn't dwell, and he hurried back to the truck for another wooden sign post.

The majority of signs came courtesy of the Paul campaign, while the pair foot their own lumber and gasoline, Ojala said with a smile. A few weeks back I watched a pair of Romney staff struggle with extracting campaign signs and materials from a car outside of Manchester, the volunteers (or staffers) digging through the back seat in search of a staple gun. By comparison, Ojala's truck and the mens' experience in construction make them a model of efficiency.


The two voiced compelling perspectives on Ron Paul’s campaign: Either Paul will close down the ‘war machine,’ or it will close itself down. Paul’s consistency, they said, is without parallel in recent presidential politics, and it is his very detachment from the status quo that makes him uniquely qualified to steer the country through a painful and inevitable readjustment.

Paul supporters like Coutu and Ojala represent the potential for a powerfully-united demographic, and they are just beginning to reach out to one another and understand that their common interests are at stake; they are working class, many acutely aware of the consequences of the recent economic downturn, and as a part of channeling their anger at the forces and figures behind the financial crisis, many have responded by seeking creative forms of self-employment while participating in the construction of a political organization around their candidate and his cause.


Paul’s rank and file could be thought of as the pessimists among us, resolute in their belief that the United States should cease being the ‘policeman’ of the world and care for our wounds. In facing up to the grave challenges that our country confronts, however, their disenchantment with our current trajectory and the crop of Republicans rising to take the reigns has actually become a forward-looking political cause. In spite of doubters who express the sentiment that Paul’s positions are ‘out of touch’ with modern politics, his pitch will not sour in the coming months, and the Paul message does not depend on carefully marketed and targeted bus tours for its survival.

The same cannot be so easily said for the efforts of Romney or Huntsman, who rely upon the coordinated efforts of campaign managers and advertising firms to stay competitive. To a slight extent, Gingrich’s vocal and unconventional statements (read: that could trigger a Constitutional crisis) are radical enough to generate a breed of support that will resonate beyond his campaign, but it is Paul’s complete vision of the libertarian ideology that stands out.


Political signs are a strange metric to gauge the efficacy of campaigns. Whether it's tracking the number of Facebook "likes" each candidate has on the Fox News Elections page, daily polling averages on RealClearPolitics, FEC disclosures, advertising purchases, or tallying political and editorial endorsements, actual roadside impressions have a mysterious effect on the sentiment of voters in states such as New Hampshire that generally cuts one of two ways.

On one hand, the proliferation of campaign signs can backfire. Consider the copious Rick Santorum signs across New Hampshire, which now seem peculiar and comical. Most of the signs were installed across the state months ago, at which point Santorum’s campaign was making a dedicated push to gain traction in the state. With that effort failing by all measures—Santorum's NH support has recently been measured at 2-3%—the signs are an awkward vestige of his inability to succeed here.


On the other hand, seeing a large and flashy sign along the roadway for the candidate you support has the effect of associating one with an active base of support. Knowing that passionate volunteers like Jean Coutu and Warren Ojala took it upon themselves to install the signs reinforces a solidarity among Paul supporters. In turn, this makes that pride passing the signs even more profound. In an election season shy on excitement, a force like that fueling the efforts of Paul’s campaign handily outshines his opponents.

Casting aside the necessity of endorsements from political insiders—referring to the ‘status quo’ politicians endorsing Romney—Coutu firmly believes “they’re the ones who got us into this mess.”

Once you’re convinced of that, and the country begins to catch on, the high ceiling on Ron Paul’s support that may emerge in the coming weeks could very well astound the majority of his original skeptics, including me. 

View the complete gallery of Monandnock-region political signs in a full-screen slide show here.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mitt Romney – Bedford Town Hall

View a full-screen slideshow from the event here.

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Ron Paul – Variety Store and Café Visits

Congressman Ron Paul is in New Hampshire today. He began the morning at Straight A Academy in Manchester, NH (photos forthcoming) before making stops at Sandy's Variety Store and the Early Bird Café in Plaistow, NH.

View my complete gallery from the event HERE.

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Lesser-Known Presidential Candidates Forum

MANCHESTER, NH: Seventeen candidates for president met at the "Lesser-Known Presidential Candidates Forum" at St. Anselm College's New Hampshire Institute of Politics on Monday, December 19, 2011.

The following Republican candidates appeared at the event: Bear Betzler (R-PA), Timothy Brewer (R-OH), Hugh Cort (R-AL), Randy Crow (R-NC), L. John Davis, Jr. (R-CO), Christopher V. Hill (R-KY), Jeff Lawman (R-NH), Benjamin Linn (R-NH), Michael J. Meehan (R-MO), Joe Story (R-FL).

The following Democratic candidates appeared at the event: Ed Cowan (D-VT), Bob Greene (D-CA), John D. Haywood (D-NC), Edward T. O'Donnell, Jr. (D-DE), Vermin Supreme (D-MA), Randall Terry (D-WV), John Wolfe (D-TN).

To view my complete gallery from the event in a full-screen slide show click HERE.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Jon Huntsman – Deering Town Hall

Governor Jon Huntsman holds a town hall meeting in Deering, New Hampshire on December 17, 2011.
This morning, Jon Huntsman received editorial endorsements from the Valley News and Keane Sentinel newspapers.

When the candidate in question has held over 120 campaign stops—each of them strong showings, but none too different from the rest—it's often hard to gauge shifts in campaign momentum. But with the New Hampshire Primary just over three weeks away, days like today really do matter in helping to shape a candidate's final push.

Fmr. Governor and Homeland Security Dir. Tom Ridge served as Huntsman's campaign surrogate Saturday, visiting four VFW halls across the state, including a stop at Post 168 in Portsmouth. See more here.
With Tom Ridge lending a hand on the stump, larger crowds showing up to each successive event, Newt Gingrich beginning to slump in state polls, and today's new endorsements, the positive forces the Huntsman campaign's "path to victory" has counted on all along are finally materializing. It's Jon Huntsman's turn to do the heavy lifting now.


Huntsman still needs to mix up his pitch for those voters hearing him for the second or third time. He could start by retooling some of the lines he's recycled for the better of the year, and he'd also benefit from one or two more campaign surrogates to bring added firepower to his ground game. Ultimately, however, it has been Huntsman's unique qualifications, ability to connect with voters, and dedication to New Hampshire that have taken him this far, and not much needs to change.

Athough certain of his opponents have yet to win over the confidence of early state voters or establish their political authenticity once and for all, the task required of Huntsman in the coming weeks still won't be easy, but as he says frequently, he won't need to "contort himself into a pretzel" to close the sale. Now is the time for that advantage to finally pay off.

View the complete photo gallery from Jon Huntsman's Deering event HERE.


Monday, December 12, 2011

A Brief Pause

Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich shake hands before a "Lincoln-Douglas Debate" between the two men at St. Anselm's College in Manchester, NH on December 12, 2011. Photo credit: Luke N. Vargas.

Just when it seems like the election is at its most interesting point to date, my college final exams are here to disrupt the party

At the crack of dawn I will be on my way back to New York City to hurriedly write my final papers and put an end to the semester. With luck, I'll be back in the Granite State on Saturday morning to kick off a solid month of uninterrupted coverage from Iowa and New Hampshire.

See you then!

Mitt Romney – Hudson VFW Town Hall

Mitt Romney leads a town hall meeting at Hudson VFW Post 5791 in Hudson, NH on December 11, 2011.

View my full-screen sideshow from the event here.
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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Jon Huntsman – Londonderry High School

LONDONDERRY, N.H. — Concluding just in time for New Hampshire voters to scurry home and catch the ABC/Des Moines Register GOP debate in Iowa, Jon Huntsman addressed a full house of supporters at Londonderry High School.

The comparison of stakes is compelling.

This was not the first time Governor Huntsman has offered alternative programming to a nationally-televised debate. On October 18, Huntsman chose to forgo the CNN Las Vegas debate in a gesture of solidarity with New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary status in the face of Nevada's short-lived decision to move its voting date earlier in January. Nevada eventually backed it's primary date, but not without the full crop of his opponents spending two hours in the spotlight, and Huntsman didn't see a boost in his New Hampshire polling number in the weeks that followed.


Drawing a crowd of around 150 voters is not insignificant. On a freezing cold night (the earliest sunset of the year, in fact) at a facility with not a single piece of signage along the busy road, Huntsman's ability to put so many bodies in the seats on the average night is a powerful indicator tipping in his favor.

What Huntsman loses out on are perhaps five million television viewers, and with only two network TV cams (used primarily for reel footage) and two wire photographers at the event tonight, each successive event doesn't generate much coverage on its own. Instead, Huntsman's strategy is one of accumulation, the slow amassing of mentions in conversation, campaign sign impressions along the roadside, and a positive rapport with local media.


Is the strategy paying off in the state? The answer isn't clear. Although Huntsman crossed into double digits in a recent state survey, he has yet to string together the gains in consecutive polls that he'll need to finish second or better in New Hampshire. In lieu of new numbers this weekend, Huntsman's support can only be measured in the enthusiasm of his supporters.

With new eight foot long campaign signs rolled out across the state earlier on Saturday, the real test of the depth of Huntsman's support will soon be seen when voters begin to associate how crucial New Hampshire is to Huntsman's campaign with his increased visibility in the state.

View the full-screen gallery (recommended) on Flickr here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mitt's Undermining: Scenarios for a December Opening

Correct me if I am entirely misinterpreting things, but I have begun to get the impression of late that Mitt Romney may well lose the GOP nomination. And if he does, it could all fall apart just as fast as in 2008 (with his February 7 concession) despite being told all year that Romney had the resources to compete through numerous late primary states.

Standing in his way aren't the countless contests in states like Illinois, New Jersey, or Ohio, but the classic obstacles of Iowa, New Hampshire, and Mitt himself. Work with me —
After watching Mitt's interview yesterday with Fox's Bret Baier—in which he was taken to task for refusing to concede that he had changed his mind on a handful of issues—I was surprised by the extent to which Romney looks at once both accusatory and feeble. That's without opening his mouth:

Just as Romney crossed his legs before pushing back on Baier's legitimate questioning of his numerous flip-flops, a troublesome campaign scenario for him was born: the public impression of Romney's personality could crumble should he sense the nomination is slipping away from him for a second time. All it takes are some small hiccups in a sea of very impressive debates and town hall meetings, and the national momentum can begin to slip away.

Combine that with today's news that Newt Gingrich has summoned his formal and informal aides to instruct them to refrain from attacking Mitt Romney, and a strange dynamic emerges in which Gingrich can keep sailing on his calm rhetoric as displayed in debates, while Romney's steady thirst for the office—going on five years now since he announced in 2007—may be his biggest weakness.


Ironically, it's Gingrich's blinding self-confidence (often materializing in an arrogance towards his critics and any questioning media) that's lead him to run for President, but Romney's personal quest for the Presidency that could ultimately stand in his way.

Gingrich's financial motivation for effectively changing sides in policy arguments to appease lobbying clients looks oddly respectable—and, oddly, easier to explain away—than a change of heart concerning one's personal convictions. 

At this point, Romney, Gingrich, Paul, and Huntsman look to be the only candidates with the capacity to shake up the election in the coming months. Rick Perry may have cash, Rick Santorum may have tirelessly taken his message to every corner of New Hampshire and Iowa, Michele Bachmann may continue to make her rounds of conservative media outlets of all sizes, but all three candidates have lost their audience. And then there's Herman Cain...

The campaigns of these candidates have stumbled for a variety of reasons, but it can as easily boil down to the likelihood that their message or campaign "personality" could evolve going forward. Without one of these wild cards, it's hard to stay relevant in today's media climate. Bachmann and Santorum tirelessly express complete conservative visions that ring with a conviction some of their opponents lack, but we've lost interest. Cain and Perry, meanwhile, have demonstrated themselves to be ineffectual in telling us anything new about their policy standards beyond prepared remarks.

On the flipside, there is information we are curious to know about Gingrich, Romney, Huntsman, and Paul.


For Gringrich, the public will be curious to know more about his connections to lobbying and hear how he defends his record. While this may seem like an inherently negative thing, it's worth noting that in the first two weeks of December, as the nearness of the Iowa Caucus begins to dawn on voters and their news attention, support rapidly consolidates in a fashion that put the relative highs and lows of the campaign henceforth to shame. Although it seemed for a moment that Herman Cain's supporters would surprise us by helping to hold up his high polling numbers, his meltdown ultimately occurred too early for the rank and file of his supporters to join hands and stand beside the candidate all the way until January.

If Gingrich can capitalize on his frontrunner standing in next week's debate in Iowa, the timing might be right for him to weather the attacks coming his way and maintain his lead going into January.

As for Romney, voters will feed off the continued excitement of watching him pretend he hasn't flip-flopped, and it is still worth acknowledging that he may handle this spotlight well and stay above water until New Hampshire. The primary change of the past weeks is a realization that Romney's business smarts and and crisp rhetoric in debates alone can do all the work for him. There are numerous tactical decisions that Romney and his team must make in the coming weeks to hold onto the nomination, and if either the candidate or the public get spooked, it is astonishing how quickly a campaign can unravel.

Jon Huntsman may have higher negatives than his opponents, but he remains the candidate with the least name recognition by a significant margin. We would be foolish to overlook the effectiveness of the media at introducing and crafting powerful opinions of political candidates in a staggeringly short time, and what this could mean for Huntsman's rather late arrival on the national scene.

To boot, Huntsman has been working hard to create openings for himself — such as his new emphasis on "too big to fail" banks and his articulate criticisms of Romney — in the political discourse of late. Should his forthcoming policy proposals be timely and relevant to the national political discourse the microphone could swing to him, I am beginning to sense a strong likelihood that Huntsman could catch fire coming out of Iowa.


He will be performing on a new, and smaller, stage once a handful of his opponents (read: Bachmann, Santorum, Perry, Cain) fall short of expectations and struggle to regain control over their message. Since Huntsman's legitimacy is rooted (not to mention well-earned) in the second contest of the voting season, he can rightly get a pass until round two. This is a significant advantage.

Huntsman's pitch is getting good, and this sustained practice with his unique message is invaluable once votes begin to be cast and the stakes of an actual election for higher office collectively set in.

Ron Paul's opinions were long-ago absorbed and understood (although mostly ignored by) the media, but the Congressmen is polling a full three times higher in Iowa (with 13%) than at this time in 2007.

Reports back from two fellow photographers in Iowa speak of Paul's surprisingly strong support among influential voting groups such as home-schoolers that have largely been overlooked by pollsters. When it comes to individual caucuses, organized and outspoken members from these groups do possess the power to sway public opinion where it matters most and help Paul win a number of caucuses.

Ron Paul carried a single Iowa county in 2008, but I expect a stronger showing this January. Without question, Paul will be a presence in a greater capacity in the coming election than last time around.


Returning to the Fox clip from the top of the post, it is becoming clear the tremendous potential impact that Fox News could have in the coming month as the major "institutional" and henceforth front-runner candidate has been embarrassed by the host of the nightly news program and dramatically revealed to be a much weaker potential candidate than we had come to imagine.

Of course, there are steps Romney can attempt to take to patch over his spat with Baier, but the very occurrence of their confrontation should symbolize the extent to which the good graces of the largest conservative network have a bearing on which candidate dominates the positive coverage going into and, more importantly, coming out of Iowa as the final chapter before the New Hampshire primary is written.

Thanks to recent history, we have Romney's very words from an interview Fox following his 2008 defeat in Iowa, in which he was stopped in his tracks by a come-from-behind victory by Mike Huckabee, despite outspending him by a factor of ten.

At the 2:00 mark it is surprising the extent to which Romney seems to misunderstand who he is truly up against in the race. Having covered John McCain the night before the Caucus in Des Moines and in the following days in New Hampshire, there was a palpable feeling among the media that McCain's 13% finish in Iowa was noticeably stronger than expected, and in subtle ways this new narrative began to play out in articles across the country.

Things got a even more dicey for Romney the following week when he "[got] another silver" with a second place showing in New Hampshire while McCain propelled swiftly into front-runner status. At the 1:00 mark, the uncomfortable cheering (and scattered boos) for the victorious McCain and the awkward acknowledgment by Romney of his evidently 'brainy' but unsuccessful New Hampshire campaign managers truly represents the sealing of his fate.

Bearing this history in mind, Romney's 2011 strategy so far has been to double down on the institutionalization of his campaign, holding "Ask Mitt Anything"-style campaign events and chatty media availabilities than in 2007. In many ways, this approach stymies the kind of natural and gradually accumulating excitement that marks a winning campaign. 

To revel in the catharsis that can punctuate certain points of the electoral process, take in two videos from 2008—the New Hampshire victory speeches by Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

If you think a crowd of 2012 Romney Granite State voters could work themselves up to such levels of excitement as seen for either McCain or Clinton (let alone Obama), please drop me an email. Frankly, with Gallup's recent polling indicating that enthusiasm among his national base of supporters is lower than at any point in this election, I don't see that happening.

In doubling down on his Boston "brain trust" and an anti-emotional approach to campaigning, Romney's may be in danger of falling short of two competing brain trusts: Newt Gingrich's own, more deeply entrenched "brain trust" in his powerful Washington and Wall Street associations, or Jon Huntsman's practical conservatism and increasing resonance with voters.