The 2012 Presidential campaign officially began last night -- or so claims the folks at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, which held its Spring Kickoff event with speeches from five wannabes for the GOP nomination. God provided C-SPAN coverage, so I can say that I thought Herman Cain did well; Newt Gingrich, despite having just moved into an "exploratory" Presidential campaign phase, gave a condensed version of his year-old 2010 CPAC speech; Tim Pawlenty did fine, but I think he's trying too hard to yell his way past all the 'too bland' criticism (which I don't think hurts him anyway); Buddy Roemer did a great Zell Miller impersonation; and Rick Santorum started slow but had a terrific riff (probably old, but I hadn't seen it) on being the 'ultra' (as in ideologically extreme) Senator.
I won't expound further on that event, because I really can't top Jacques Berlinerblau's wrap-up on the WaPo site, which notes that "A novice to Christianity might have walked away from this angry event thinking that this Jesus fellow was some sort of nunchuck wielding martial artist ever on the prowl for unions, liberals, gay people, and whatever unfortunate illegal immigrants might cross his path."
My view is that the religious-right Iowa activists are probably the most important factor in determining the Republican nomination. I'll write more about that another time, but to put it briefly: that group will either A) coalesce around an establishment-acceptable candidate, like Pawlenty or Barbour; B) coalesce around an establishment-unacceptable candidate, like Gingrich or Michelle Bachmann; or C) fail to coalesce and scatter their votes all over. Which of these scenarios transpires makes a huge difference for the race in New Hampshire and beyond.
And, it makes a huge difference to Mitt Romney. So it's been very interesting to me to see what seems like deliberate counter-programming by the Barnstormin' Mormon.
Maybe it's just a coincidence, but there are very few coincidences in a Romney campaign, and they certainly know the Iowa process inside and out and have had the Faith and Freedom dinner marked on their calendar for a long time.
Counter-programming is when, for instance, ABC scheduled Desperate Housewives in the Sunday night slot starting in October 2004, up against Sunday Night Football -- rather than competing for the same viewers, they went after what the network perceived as the viewers they could pull away from football, ie women. As I recall, the advertising was pretty blatant: football is for mouth-breathing, beer-swigging, child-men; this show is for you.
Romney, who did not attend the Monday Iowa Faith and Freedom event, pulled a before-and-after one-two combination aimed directly at New Hampshire Republicans. On Saturday night he made his first public Granite State appearance since the November election, giving a speech at the Carroll County Lincoln Day Dinner. ('Behind the Scenes' video posted by his PAC here!) Themes: economy, Obamacare, foreign policy. Guaranteed lots and lots of New Hampshire media coverage on Sunday.
"New Hampshire media" includes Boston, and in particular, for the GOP at least, Boston's drive-time radio, the Boston Herald, and TV news, in that order. Today, the Herald's cover story is a Romney op-ed blasting Obama on jobs and the economy, and reprising the "Obama Misery Index" from his CPAC speech last month. I didn't get a chance to listen, but I'd be willing to bet the morning drive-time radio covered it pretty extensively.
Counter-programming. Message to New Hampshirites: Those other candidates doing that thing in Iowa are for the corn-fed, Bible-thumping, flat-earth rubes; this candidate is for you.
Very, very smart.