Mitt Romney has officially thrown his hat into the ring for the 2008 race.
Romney’s position as being the third-place candidate is probably a good thing for him. You don’t necessarily want to be the front-runner this early as that means everyone starts gunning for you right out of the gate. Romney is in the position of being a very viable candidate, but letting McCain and Giuliani take all the fire. If those two cancel each other out (which is a strong possibility), Romney is in a position to be the first to take advantage of the opening in the GOP field.
Romney is also doing much to reach out to conservative voters and appeal to the GOP base. His earlier positions on gay marriage and abortion may hurt him, but he’s done enough recently to burnish his conservative credentials that it may not matter by the time the rest of the country starts paying attention. His line about not starting out as a Ronald Reagan conservative, but noting that Reagan himself didn’t is a rather effective one for dealing with the doubts of the GOP base.
He’s also telegenic, well-spoken, and he has a solid ground game running in key states. All of those things are crucial to a successful candidacy, which is why Romney may be the one to watch in this race. He’s positioning himself as the “safety” choice for conservatives, which is exactly what someone in his position should be doing.
His Mormon faith is a liability, but I doubt it will be as big of one as it seems. Already the Senate has two Mormons on both sides of the aisle (Orrin Hatch and Majority Leader Harry Reid), so it’s hardly revolutionary to have a Mormon serving in a high government position. If anything, Romney’s shown a deftness with dealing with the issues that evangelical voters find important, especially family issues.
It’s still a very open field, but just because McCain and Giuliani get all the early press doesn’t mean that it’s fair to view Romney has an also-ran. He’s a strong contender, and he’s positioned himself in the right place to benefit from a collapse of either candidate. Romney is the one to watch in this race, because he’s the candidate that could pull the come-from-behind win that changes the course of the race in very short order.