Romney (pictured) is the only Republican with a realistic chance of winning both Iowa and New Hampshire, the two crucial early contests. He is second in the polls in Iowa and has a narrow lead in New Hampshire. If he pulls off back to back wins, he’ll probably be the nominee. If he doesn’t win either state, his bid is almost certainly over.
The campaigns in both states have now reached a crucial phase with Romney going negative on Huckabee, the Christian populist who leads in Iowa, and John McCain, the Arizona Senator and war hero who won the New Hampshire primary in 2000 and is currently second in the polls there.
Romney has more money than either of his competitors and is hoping that highlighting their deviations from conservative orthodoxy can put him over the top. The danger for Romney, though, is that by going on the attack he gets into a nasty, bloody fight in Iowa which he loses allowing McCain to pick off his weakened candidacy in New Hampshire.
Worryingly for Romney, the Huckabee camp is hitting back hard. Huckabee came out swinging at Romney yesterday, questioning his honesty and whether he stood for anything at all. (Huckabee cleverly used Romney’s attacks on McCain, “an American hero”, to justify his assault.) While a pro-Huckabee group brought out an ad questioning the sincerity of Romney’s conversion on abortion.
Meanwhile in New Hampshire, the McCain campaign have responded to Romney by first leaking a brutal ad that highlights Romney’s various flip flops made by Romney’s ad men when they worked for McCain and then by using a TV ad to highlight scathing criticisms of Romney made by the local New Hampshire press.
Romney’s nightmare is that the separate attacks on him in Iowa and New Hampshire feed back into each other, doubling their impact and sending him to defeat in both places.
We’ll find out the answer to all this, and more, soon enough with the Iowa caucuses coming up on Thursday and New Hampshire voting on the eighth. I’ll be in the States from Monday and will keep you posted on what’s happening out there.