Matt Mackowiak

Editor's Note: This piece was co-authored by Ford O'Connell.

Less than one month until the 2012 Iowa Caucuses, Mitt Romney finds himself again in the uncomfortable position of looking over his shoulder at the candidate with momentum. While in 2008, that candidate was Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.), now it is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).This time, though, Team Romney should be scared.

Counting on Gingrich to self-destruct, like the other candidates who preceded him, is not a sound campaign strategy if Romney wants to eventually garner the necessary support needed to win the nomination.

Having spent the better part of the last half-decade campaigning for the Oval Office with relentlessness and a single-minded focus, one would think that Mitt Romney would be hitting his stride right about now. And while Romney has significant advantages over the rest of the GOP presidential field in terms of fundraising and campaign operations, this is simply just not the case.

Nowhere was this more evident than last week's interview with Fox News' Bret Baier. In the exchanges between Romney and Baier, the former Massachusetts governor became angry and increasingly uncomfortable as Baier asked direct, but pertinent questions about his record, particularly RomneyCare.

When Romney quipped: "This is an unusual interview," and broke out into an awkward laugher, it was quite clear that Romney was failing to hide his contempt for being asked about his own record. At that moment, he was uncomfortable in his own skin - and it showed.

If Romney wants to win the nomination, he will need to do more than just continually tout that he is the best-positioned candidate in the GOP field to take on President Obama.

Several candidates have surged in the polls over the last several months precisely because Romney sounds like Jan Brady selfishly complaining about her sister older sister Marcia getting all of the attention when it comes to why Republicans should cast a vote for him in 2012.

For a lot of Republican primary voters, 2008 and the nomination of John McCain is still fresh on their minds. Less than four years ago, establishment Republicans signaled to the GOP base that they had better get in line behind McCain, because he was the most electable, and begrudgingly the base eventually followed suit.

Even with their disgust for President Obama, the GOP base is not likely to make the same mistake twice, unless Romney demonstrates himself to be worthy of their support. He has to give people a reason to vote FOR him, not just wait until everyone else explodes. Because what happens if one Romney competitor doesn't self-implode?

For Team Romney to win the nomination, the candidate and his campaign need to quickly improve in two areas. First, Republican primary voters are a lot like most NASCAR fans; they like fireworks and want to see a fighter who instills enthusiasm. Drafting your way to victory lane by just being better than Obama on paper may seem like a smart political strategy given the new primary rules, but it is not enough to satisfy the base. They long for a candidate who will take the fight directly to the president and keep the pressure on him at all times.

Second, GOP voters want to know that they can trust their nominee to do the right thing when the going gets tough. Flip-flopping is only part of the issue for Romney; candidates often change their positions and the base understands this. It's the rationale behind "why" a candidate changes his or her positions that matters to Republican voters. For America to achieve greatness again, the eventual Republican nominee must prove himself or herself to be someone who will focus on the economy and government reform, no matter what the political costs entail.

Romney must counter the feeling among some that he makes decision based on political opportunity, rather than courageous core beliefs.

Right now, Mitt Romney may be the single candidate with the best odds to win, but if asked, betting on the field would be the wiser bet. If he is unable to overcome these hurdles, Romney could find himself on the losing end of the 2012 Republican presidential nomination -- his final chance to win the same office which eluded his father.


Matt Mackowiak

Matt Mackowiak is a Washington, DC and Austin, TX based political and communications consultant and the founder and President of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC, providing political consulting, media relations and crisis communications assistance to campaigns, companies, groups and individuals. Since he arrived in Washington, DC, he has served in senior roles for two U.S. Senators, a Governor, in the executive branch, in winning political campaigns, and in the private sector. Over his career Matt has developed deep relationships with national, state and local media and political figures.

Most recently Matt worked with PSG client Gov. Sean Parnell (R-AK) as a senior communications adviser, providing counsel on strategy, speechwriting and media relations during the 2011 legislative session in Juneau.

In 2010 Matt served as Campaign Manager for Bill Flores, the Republican nominee in Texas’ 17th Congressional District. After winning a 5-way primary, Flores defeated 10-term incumbent Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX) by 25% in November, the largest margin of victory for a GOP challenger in 2010.

In addition to offering counsel to individuals and corporations, Matt provides political analysis for the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News, BBC News, and radio stations throughout the country. Matt’s on-therecord political analysis has appeared in Politico, the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg News, The Hill, Congressional Quarterly, the Washington Examiner, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, and on ABCNews.com. He is a syndicated columnist and has had opinion columns published in the New York Post, New York Daily News, FoxNews.com, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Politico, Roll Call, Austin American-Statesman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Des Moines Register, National Review online, Congressional Quarterly and on the popular blog sites The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post. Matt has lectured and given speeches at the University of Illinois, the University of Texas, Texas Christian University, Georgetown University, Catholic University, the University of Denver, American University and the University of North Texas.

From 2005-2009 Matt served as Press Secretary to U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (RTX), the fourth ranking member of the Republican Leadership, and three-term former U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT). Earlier in his career he was a political appointee at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson and Assistant Secretary Stewart Verdery, managed the second largest county in Iowa on the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, counseled corporate clients at international PR firm Burson-Marsteller, and performed White House Presidential and Vice Presidential advance nationwide.

Matt is a Director of the Center for Public Policy and Political Studies at Austin Community College, and is a sustaining member of MaverickPAC. He serves as a member of the Board of Advisors for the non-profit Luke’s Wings and enjoys helping Becky’s Fund and USA CARES.

A native of Austin, Texas, Matt graduated with a B.S. in Communications Studies (Political Communication track) from the University of Texas in 2003. Aside from his professional work, he owns and manages the popular blog site www.potomacflacks.com, which the Washingtonian has called “one of the best political blogs.” In his free time, Matt enjoys sports, live music, reading biographies, and is an avid supporter of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the University of Texas.