In the Arena

Was it Tumulty’s Cover Story?

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Most horse race polls are useless this early in a presidential campaign. National polls are totally useless–a reflection, mostly, of name recognition. Local polls are interesting or not, depending on the state. Iowa and New Hampshire polls are more interesting than others, since those presidential politics is a major industry in those two states and the locals pay more attention than civilians in say, Indiana.

And so, Mitt Romney’s mega-leap in this weekend’s Des Moines Register poll may have some significance, a consequence of his debates performances and, ahem, Time’s cover story last week. Or not: it may just be a statistical outlier–most other Iowa polls have Romney bunched with McCain and Giuliani at the top of the Iowa board.

I suspect something is going on here, though, and my gut–which has been through nine Iowa’s worth of political agita–says Romney, in his aw-shucks slickness, just seems like the sort of guy Republicans tend to nominate. Rudy is too New Yawk; McCain, too independent. Romney has put together a campaign that is carefully calibrated to appeal to the GOP grassroots–unadventurous in every way. Asked in the Fox debate to cite a position he’d taken that is unpopular with the Republican base, he said he favored No Child Left Behind–a Bush initiative that is mostly unpopular with teacher’s unions, but certainly not with the vast majority of Republicans, who like well-organized things like testing for proficiency in math and reading.

And that–the well-organized part–is a factor in the Republicans sublimal agenda in this, and every, election year: They hate chaos. They feel a preternatural need to sort themselves out, find a front-runner, unite behind that person. It is entirely possible that Mitt Romney is beginning to emerge as that person.

Or not. Giuliani’s toughness may still prevail. Or someone else may come in. One thing does seem increasingly obvious: the Republicans have little taste for John McCain.,9171,1619536,00.html