Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: What must Romney do to pull away from the pack?

Published: Sunday, Nov. 6 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

While other GOP presidential contenders endure dramatic swings in support as the "flavor of the month," Mitt Romney remains the one steady performer. But Romney still doesn't have much separation from the pack, and he doesn't generate great excitement. What must he do to emerge as the consensus candidate (or can he)?

Webb: The Republican establishment is coalescing around Romney, believing he has the best chance to defeat President Barack Obama. That helps with fundraising and endorsements. But Romney's lead is still precarious because the more ideological, grassroots, tea party Republicans remain skeptical of him. But Romney should be Romney. It would be a mistake to pander to the far right and risk more charges of flip-flopping. Romney should stay on course, remain somewhat above the fray, avoid criticizing other Republicans and project a presidential image. In the end, Republicans will nominate the candidate they think can defeat Obama.

Pignanelli: "Romney has an actual campaign poster. Can you see the hidden message? (pointing to the poster) Do you see the 2 arrows? He goes both ways on all topics."

— Jay Leno

National Republicans are frustrated that this intelligent and moral candidate is incapable of articulating — and maintaining — a conservative philosophy for any length of time.

Many of the conservative "wise men" are worried that Romney is morphing into Michael Dukakis (another former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee). Dukakis, as with Romney, was extremely organized and captured the nomination. But without a strong ideology, the Democratic base was lukewarm and lost the general election.

The only consensus among most Republicans is that Romney may be the least undesirable. His hard work in the states will be the backstop to prevent other candidates from grabbing the nomination. Yet, without an enthusiastic base, Romney will lose the general election. He must drop the businessman persona, and exude the passion, conviction (similar to a missionary) and commitment to what really believes. Politics is not about the mind, it is about the heart and soul.

Despite tea party unrest and lots of talk about intra-party challenges to Sen. Orrin Hatch and Gov. Gary Herbert, no one has stepped up. Yet, political party caucuses are only about four months away. Are these guys going to enjoy free rides to their party nominations?

Pignanelli: Some Republican officials and business types grumble Gov. Herbert "has no plan." But this is thin gruel to launch an attack against the state's chief executive. As one seasoned veteran noted, "In Utah, we don't elect governors, we sustain them." The governor has just completed a series of successful "summits" throughout the state and his approval ratings are higher. Hatch continues to reach out to delegates and local officials, building support.

The grumbles from the right-wing may continue against these incumbents (neither of whom has made major mistakes in the recent past), but with every passing day the difficulty of a challenge increases.

Webb: Herbert may avoid a strong challenge, but not Hatch. I keep hearing that State Sen. Dan Liljenquist is definitely in the Senate race. He's solid enough to give Hatch a real battle, even though Hatch, with his big war chest, remains the odds-on favorite. Liljenquist isn't exactly a tea party guy, but tea partiers and the far right will support him because he is a conservative, and he isn't Hatch. Liljenquist is well-liked by a lot of mainstream Republicans who appreciate Hatch and his long service, but believe it's time for the senior statesman to retire.

But will Utahns toss aside the opportunity to have a Utah senator chair the incredibly powerful Senate Finance Committee? I doubt it.

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