Now that Trump, like Palin, has been relegated to "national joke" status and the Gingrich campaign has literally ceased to exist in Iowa, it would seem that the largely undisputed front-runner for the Republican Primary is Mitt Romney. But while his rivals seem to be dropping like flies, Romney's campaign, propelled largely by the candidate's winning personality and strong name recognition, is starting to show signs of faltering. Romney's recent decision to skip the influential Ames Straw Poll - an informal early sampling of the Republican Presidential field - isn't the first indication the Romney campaign faces long-term viability problems. The campaign is not beset with the structural problems faced by Gingrich, the crisis of public confidence experienced by both Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman, nor the rather unfortunate Google issues dogging Rick Santorum (don't say you haven't been warned). Nonetheless, Romney's campaign, strong as it looks right now, has some serious obstacles to overcome and, if the Ames poll is any indication, neither Romney nor anyone on his campaign has a good notion of how to address them.
Romney's decision not to participate in the Ames poll (or indeed any straw polls) is motivated, as the campaign says, by a desire to "focus our energies and resources on winning primaries and caucuses." The campaign's vanilla statement is given depth by a comment from Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis: "Straw polls are an expensive proposition and they [the Romney Team] have decided to focus their resources on primary day."
The notion that expense could be a deciding factor for Romney this early on in the campaign is interesting.
Romney's net worth is estimated at north of $200 Million and, according to Reuters, he plans on raising some $50 Million for the GOP Primary. For the sake of comparison, it took John McCain approximately $59 Million to win the Republican Primary in 2008; or rather, the McCain primary campaign had raised some $59 Million when Romney dropped out of the race in March of 2008. According to FEC statements, the Romney campaign had raised some $60 Million by that time.
So why is Romney - a candidate who out-raised the 2008 primary winner - worried about money?
The answer lies in another puzzling statement of Romney's made not too long ago. The following is from The Atlantic, June 10, 2011 [emphasis added]:
Last week, Mitt Romney spoke about the issue in New Hampshire. He opposes a "cap-and-trade" limit on carbon emissions. Like the vast majority of climate scientists, however, he believes that climate change is happening, and that humans are playing some role
Now opposed to "cap-and-trade" or not, a statement like that weakens Romney's opposition to environmental regulations. That opposition has been a cornerstone of Republican policy going back to Reagan's rejection of Carter's alternative energy initiatives and it is a policy that has been greatly appreciated by a segment of American industry that reliably backs Republican candidates.
Most corporations like to back a winner, and thus a lot of industries give equally to both parties or tend to back the incumbant, but looking at donor lists from Presidential elections between 2008 and 1992, certain industries have been loyal supporters of Republican candidates through thick and thin.
Among them are (in order of decreasing loyalty) the Oil and Gas, Manufacturing, Automotive, Electric Utilities, and Air Transit industries.
If you see a commonality amongst these industries, you are not alone. None of them are great friends to the environmental movement and none of them are going to be enthusiastic supporters of a candidate that they see as willing to sell them down river in order to appeal to environmentally concerned moderates.
In 2008 those industries contributed more than $68 Million; in 2004, $72 Million; George W. Bush saw them pony up $95.1 Million in 2000; and in 1996 they doled out more than $63 Million in political donations.
Given Romney's stance on climate change, he can not expect the support of the GOP's traditional industry backers and thus money, despite his stellar fundraising record, could be a real concern for him. That's very possibly why he's ducking the straw polls. Romney is looking back to 2008 and realizing that he out raised McCain, won the Ames straw poll, and lost the primary. In light of that, his decision to avoid those polls this time around is unremarkable.
What remains a mystery is why he didn't back off of his climate change position while he had the chance.