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Richelieu: What Romney Wants

3:30 PM, Nov 2, 2007 • By RICHELIEU
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Mitt Romney's campaign is finding it's message footing, and just in the nick of time. Romney got off track early in his campaign, when he tried to exploit the "pure conservative" space left open when former Beltway-buzz-king George Allen's presidential aspirations collapsed.

The purist position never fit Romney's eclectic flavor of conservatism and served instead to raise questions about what he really believes. It was a fumble, and Romney has paid a big price. Now the campaign has begun to focus on selling a more authentic Romney; the Mr. Fixit-wizard who saved the 2002 Olympics, made zillions in business, and shook up a Democratic state. This new message screams brains and competence, which are Romney's strongest cards. With sky high Iowa expectations, a vulnerable record of gymnastic moves on several issues, and a snarling pack of hungry competitors moving in on him, there is no doubt that the Romney campaign is about to face hard days of decision.

The big question for Romney is New Hampshire. Does his campaign want to start driving up Giuliani and Huckabee's negatives now with risky paid mail and TV to try to pre-empt any bounce either could get from a strong second- or third-place finish in Iowa? (Assuming N.H. will follow Iowa by a few days.) Or does Team Romney wait and try to ride out the bumps? The scary scenario of a Huckabee upset and Giuliani third place in Iowa, followed by a Rudy or even Huckabee surge in New Hampshire, is looming. Rudy's squishy record as New York City mayor is indeed a big liability, but only if voters hear about it. The campaign clock is ticking. As the vulnerable Iowa frontrunner, Romney must both energize his own effort and slow down the competition's. That last part poses a very tough question: Does Mitt Romney want to get a political heart attack in January ... or give one?