What a difference four years make.
Today Mitt Romney is expected to announce his presidential candidacy at a cookout on Bittersweet Farm in Stratham, N.H. The date and location of the announcement literally and figuratively separate Romney from his star-crossed strategy of 2007.
During the 2007-08 election cycle Romney announced 11 months before the Iowa caucuses, but this time only about eight months will pass from today until early February when Iowa becomes the first state to hold a caucus or primary to determine presidential delegates.
Out as a hosting venue is the Henry Ford Museum, the Michigan locale Mitt used in 2007 to evoke the memory of his late father, George; new and improved for 2011 is launching a campaign from a 250-year-old, 300-acre working farm owned and operated by New Hampshire political kingmakers Doug and Stella Scamman.
Unlike 2007, today Romney jumps into the GOP fray leading in the polls, enjoying strong name recognition and benefiting from a daunting fundraising apparatus unrivaled within the Republican Party.
"I imagine Romney will run a different campaign this time than he did last," said Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "In 2007 Romney had developed somewhat of a national name as governor of Massachusetts, with the Olympics and with being one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People. But he was not nearly as well known. … Now, Romney has great name ID, the best fundraising network and is labeled as the frontrunner."
In the 2008 New Hampshire Republican primary, Romney finished second to Sen. John McCain, 38 percent to 32. But Romney's prospects for 2012 sparkle: a New Hampshire poll in mid-May of Republican primary voters conducted by CNN netted Romney 32 percent of votes — more than three times the 9 percent received by second-place finisher Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex.
While New Hampshire may be his to lose, Romney still isn't leaving anything to chance. Not only has he chosen to hold today's event in the Granite State, but Romney opted to also align himself with the Scammans, a mild-mannered but politically powerful couple who each served in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and have over the years hosted visits to Bittersweet Farm from Republican dignitaries like both Presidents Bush.
"New Hampshire is important to every candidate, but probably more so for Romney because he's up by over 20 points there in polls today," Jowers said. "He has a home there, and is considered a favored son there."
During the nearly nine months that remain until the Iowa caucuses kick off election season, Romney will participate in a slew of debates — including CNN's New Hampshire debate on June 13. But the majority of Romney's time on the campaign trail will likely be spent on what BYU professor Kelly Patterson calls "the triathlon of politics."
"The triathlon is your fundraising, your organizing and your stumping," said Patterson, director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. "You can't do the last two without the first — the old adage is, 'there are three things that are important in politics: money, and I forgot the other two.' "
In terms of fundraising, even though Federal Election Commission campaign-finance filings for the current quarter won't be released until July, it's clear Romney is sitting high on the hog compared to his competitors. On May 17, Team Romney raised more than $10 million through a phone-bank fundraiser based out of Las Vegas. For the sake of comparison, Romney's fellow Republican presidential candidate and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty raised $800,000 during his own major May fundraiser.
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. may still decide to follow Romney into the GOP field.
"Gov. Huntsman is not the known commodity that Gov. Romney is," Patterson said. "They both face the same objective: they are trying to persuade voters and political elites that they deserve the (Republican) nomination and have the best chances of winning in November (2012).
"They just have to get to it through different ways: Gov. Huntsman has to come at it from, 'You don't know me,' while Gov. Romney's message is, 'You know me.' "