Rick Perry needs an early knockout win. A long, drawn-out primary slog favors Mitt Romney. The very blue Northeast could play a key role in determining the GOP presidential nominee.
All of these assessments are rooted in the political realities of the election calendar approved at the annual summer Republican Party gathering in Kansas City last year—an event where party leaders set the stage for a extended, complex presidential campaign that almost seems designed to play to Mitt Romney’s strengths and compensate for his weaknesses.
A detailed analysis of the likely primary calendar – which is still in flux, though should be clearer by this weekend – offers a half-dozen possible outcomes, including early knockouts by either Romney or his main rival, Rick Perry.
But if the nomination fight remains a Romney-Perry two-man race after Super Tuesday, among the likeliest scenarios is a long, expensive spring trek through Romney’s political heartland. Perry has just one clear path: To blow the doors off the race with early momentum, and never let up.
A few factors at play could change the calculus: an early Florida primary could produce a cascade of changes, and the entrance of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would also alter the equation.
But much of the later calendar appears to be largely locked in, and as Democrats were reminded by Barack Obama’s well-planned 2008 campaign, the primary race is ultimately not about winning votes or states, but about winning delegates.
The changes to the broader primary structure were made primarily to please GOP officials from around the country, all of whom would like their states to participate in the primary process. A shift toward dividing delegates proportionally in each state makes it hard for a frontrunner to amass big lead—and thus effectively claim the nomination before most states have voted.
But the Romney camp also has had a hand in crafting the calendar. Aides like longtime RNC member Ron Kaufman were on hand to keep an eye on the process, and the former Massachusetts governor’s allies continue to try to tweak the calendar around its edges, and to move up Romney-friendly states.
“I talked to the Romney people and said, ‘Is this important for you?’ And they said, ‘A win is a win and delegate votes may really count,’ ” Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, a Romney supporter, told the Salt Lake Tribune this summer in reference to Romney camp attempts to move the Utah primary from late June to the spring.