Romney Throws a "Hail Mary"?

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Feb 20, 2007 1:14 PM

Mitt Romney's first TV ad is going up.  As you will see, it's pretty sharp.  He looks good, but then, he almost always looks good.

The obvious question is: Why in the world would a campaign spend money on TV almost a year before any votes are cast? 

Jonathan Martin of the Politico writes: "Asked why the campaign would air commercials so far ahead of the first voting, Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said, 'It's the perfect time."

So now is the perfect time?  (Okay, in fairness, what would you expect a paid political operative to say?:  "Our campaign is taking a huge gamble.  We're really running the ads because if our poll numbers don't improve, we won't be able to raise money.  And if that happens, the campaign will collapse?").

Of course not!

So they spin.  What is spin?  Simply put, when you're handed a lemon, you make lemonade.  It's not lying -- it's making lemonade.  But the best spin doesn't set off my "spin detector."  This does. 

So what is the real goal of these ads?  Probably not to directly influence how people will vote on Election Day.  Undecided voters (the ones who matter most) don't make up their minds until right before an election. Traditional campaign strategy is to harvest your resources and spend them at the end of a campaign ... when average voters are finally starting to pay attention (you and I are political junkies, but average voters aren't).

I admire what Romney is doing right now -- which (if he actually puts real money behind these ads) is essentially laying all his cards on the table and betting the house.  He's taking a gamble that these commercials will move the numbers enough to allow him to convince donors that he can beat McCain and Rudy (who have consistently been ahead of him in the polls).  I respect that.  He has moxie.  But don't tell me this is part of the master plan. 

Of course, it's possible these ads are simply meant to generate early "buzz."  If that's the case, it's working (we're talking about them, aren't we?).  The way to tell if the ads are strictly to create buzz is to find out how big the ad buys are.  If they only buy a few hundred points, we will know the intent wasn't to move the numbers -- just to get some earned media.

Either way, by running these ads early, the Romney Team is defying conventional wisdom.  Every dollar Romney spends now is a dollar he won't be able to spend next January.  Meanwhile, his opponents are running traditional campaigns and banking their bucks.

Sometimes "Hail Mary" passes work, but let's not forget that football teams don't throw "Hail Mary" passes (pardon the religious imagery) if they are winning.   (Longshot Duncan Hunter was the first to buy TV ads in New Hampshire.  Need I say more?)

By spending his money early, Romney is taking a gamble that may pay off.  That's fine.  Call it moxie.  But don't call it standard operating procedure.