how Romney’s early state strategy is creating conditions that resemble a general election

“… it’s important to remember that the primaries are a dynamic process,” warns Matthew Continetti in a CampaignStandard post titled What’s the Scenario? (Cont.)

A Romney win in Iowa would have a dramatic effect on the public perceptions in other states of the former governor’s chances, and may elevate his chances of winning in southern states … etc.

We call it the trope of the coiled spring, the notion that wins in the early states will so condition perceptions that Romney will be propelled forward to wins in other states. It is the scenario the Romneys are anxious to retail and it is grim testimony to its hold on the improverished imaginations of the chattering classes that it gets repeated so often. Please note, however, that in terms of a process this narrative still function at the level of virtuality—i.e. at the level of a possibility that has yet to even open up. Consider the figure that follows, a standard virtuality-actualiziation-achievement triad that we use to plot the Continetti version of the narrative:


It is also important to remember that the more you squeeze the primary schedule, the more sudden and synchronous it becomes; hence, the less dynamic it becomes—the less it resembles an obstacle course and the more it resembles a snapshot—the more it becomes something like a national primary. Conclusion: the early state strategy is based on a possibility—a strong one, perhaps, but one that has yet to specify itself in actual outcomes. Translation: this is a scary place to be making predictions. Strong predictions generally follow from the actual, not the virtual.

Here is what interests us, however. Whether because of the compressed primary schedule, or because of the other candidates adapting themselves to Romney’s dominance in the early state primaries, the primary contests collectively now resemble the general election. Consider:

1. Typically in a general presidential election the Democrats begin advertising early; they capture media attention and tend to out-poll their rivals.

2. Moving into September-October the Republicans, after months of planning, organizing, fund-raising, but otherwise treading water, suddenly illuminate with massive media buys and coordinated message campaigning.

3. The polls numbers begin to tighten; they begin to trend toward the Republicans. Hence: the Republicans enjoy the perception of momentum etc. even though a lot of that movement may simply be regression toward the mean etc.

But this year the early-lead, come-from-behind scenario is getting played out in the primaries among Republicans, with Romney playing the part of the Democrat early-leader, and his rivals preparing to illuminate at what they believe will be a decisive moment to capture the perception of momentum, and confer upon a hapless Romney the perception of a sudden crash. See also:

Romney’s early state strategy—an addendum

… Giuliani does not need to win Iowa, New Hampshire, or Michigan. Here—we argue—is why:

(a) Romney’s much-publicized massive spending in the early states has set up conditions such that any outcome other than a total blow-out in Romney’s favor will be interpreted as a non-victory or even a defeat.

(b) Team Romney is a famously low-effiency, low-ROI campaign. It is therefore vulnerable to the sudden leaps of under-funded and under-organized but high-efficiency, high-ROI campaigns, e.g. Huckabee’s rise has pushed Romney to fifth place in the national polls.

(c) Because of (a) and (b), and because Team Romney’s numbers have already peaked in the early primary states, even a marginal intervention by any one of the other campaigns—not just Giuliani’s—could offset or even deny Romney a victory in any one, or even all of his early primary states. In other words: for any of the other candidates to come in a close second in any of the early primary states would be interpreted as a disaster for Team Romney.

(3) This is consonant with Giuliani’s high-efficiency, high-ROI campaign; he is effectively using the other campaigns to pin down and exhaust a hapless Romney at no cost to his own operation …

yours &c.
dr. g.d.


  1. 1 how Romney’s spending has distorted perceptions in Iowa and New Hampshire « who is willard milton romney?

    […] how Romney’s early state strategy is creating conditions that resemble a general election—in which post we discuss how Romney mis-timed his media blitz and thereby conceded every advantage to his underfunded, and un- or under-organized rivals. […]

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