Napoleon is supposed to have said that the quality he most valued in his generals was luck. In the current race for the Republican presidential nomination, Napoleon's favorite would clearly be Mitt Romney.
One lucky break after another has helped Romney maintain front-runner status or something close to it in polls of Republican primary voters and caucus-goers. And he needed luck to rebound from his unsuccessful run in 2008.
His strategy that cycle was slavishly modeled on George W. Bush's strategy in 2000. Romney started off early, raised and spent lots more money than any other Republican and sponsored his own "compassionate conservative" initiative, his Massachusetts health care plan.
He crisscrossed Iowa, campaigning as a conservative on abortion and cultural issues. Unfortunately, that was at odds with his past record, and he was overtaken by Mike Huckabee. Then he was beaten in relatively secular, tax-hating New Hampshire by John McCain. Romney came close but was out of the race after Super Tuesday.
An interesting counterfactual that may have occurred to him: If he had ignored Iowa and run on his business record as an economic conservative, he might have won New Hampshire and the nomination. And in the financial crisis in the fall, he might have sailed past a seemingly clueless Barack Obama.
But Romney clearly learns from mistakes. This time he has raised less money, mostly ignored Iowa, and is emphasizing his business and economic expertise that -- lucky for him -- seems relevant in a time of economic sluggishness.
Romney has been lucky as well in the shaping of the field. The decisions of Paul Ryan and Mitch Daniels not to run removed rivals who know a whole lot more about the federal budget and the looming entitlements crisis than Romney does. Each would have pressed him to take risky stands that he has deftly avoided.
Romney has been helped by the news media's fascination with supposed possible candidates who never seemed likely to run -- Sarah Palin, whose looming shadow has been growing dimmer for months, and Donald Trump, who flared up like a Roman candle and came crashing to ground. No room for stories on Romneycare or flip-flops on some issues.
Romney has also been helped by surges of support for more conservative -- they would say less establishment -- candidates who did not live up to their early promise.
Michele Bachmann surged in polls in June based on good debate performances, and her victory in the Iowa straw poll Aug. 13 ended the candidacy of Tim Pawlenty, who with blue collar roots and two terms as governor in a Democratic state could have given Romney real competition.
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