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The Boston Globe

Opinion

Scot Lehigh

Mitt Romney is one lucky candidate

Mitt Romney

AFP/Getty Images

Mitt Romney

Some candidates are born lucky. Some achieve luck. And others have luck thrust upon them.

And, as we’ve seen with a certain former Bay State governor vying for the Republican presidential nomination, still others win the good-luck triple crown.

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A well-known name, good looks, and native intelligence were Mitt Romney’s birthright. Romney has been sowing and growing his luck by sprinkling contributions about the land like a latter-day Johnny Appleseed.

But his best fortune has been thrust upon him in the form of the flawed field he’s competing against. Romney, as poll after poll shows, isn’t every Republican’s cup of tea. Far from it. A fifth to a quarter of the GOP electorate is consistently behind him. Others are either undecided or looking for an alternative.

That reality carries this danger: If the GOP field narrows to Romney and one or two plausible rivals, Mitt might well find himself on the wrong side of a committed conservative consolidation. The early race has already previewed that peril. Whenever an initially attractive alternative catches conservatives’ eye, he or she becomes the object of right-wing fantasies - until personal or political flaws become too obvious to ignore.

Thus egomaniacal publicity hound Donald Trump surfed a wave of birther buffoonery to a top spot in the polls this spring, before predictably opting not to run. And so Michele Bachmann enjoyed a brief period of stardom until it became obvious just how lightly hinged the fringe Minnesota congresswoman really is.

Next came Texas Governor Rick Perry, who seized polling’s pole position from Romney until a series of bumbling, inarticulate debate performances made the GOP skittish about following such a lightly armed general into verbal battle. Because his money gives him staying power, Perry could rebound. But for now, the bloom is off the Perry boomlet.

Romney, as poll after poll shows, isn’t every Republican’s cup of tea. But he’s benefited from a flawed cast of opponents.

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Which brings us to Herman Cain. After Perry faltered, the affable businessman rode his 9-9-9 tax plan to the top tier of the GOP field. Then came revelations about the sexual harassment complaints Cain faced during his time as president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. After an astonishingly inept attempt at damage control, Cain adopted an ignore-it-and-hope-it-goes away posture.

That might just have worked with the anonymously made assertions. However, everything changed this week, when Sharon Bialek, a (Republican) woman who said she had sought Cain’s help in her job search, offered a graphic account of having been groped by him. And now another woman has also begun to speak out about allegedly inappropriate behavior by Cain.

It was always implausible that the GOP would nominate a candidate with no government experience and only a Palinesque grasp of international affairs. But despite his denials yesterday, Cain’s candidacy is now wallowing in the waves with a hole in its hull; expect his supporters to start heading for the lifeboats.

So who else will get an audition? Although he has his own fanatical following, Ron Paul’s hard-core libertarianism is too heterodox on too many issues for the GOP.

If Romney’s luck holds, it will be former Speaker Newt Gingrich or perhaps even former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, either of whose ascension would trigger yet another attraction-to-ambivalence-to-abandonment cycle.

What would spell bad luck for Romney would be if the GOP decided to take a closer look at Jon Huntsman, the successful two-term former governor of Utah. Although he’s considered the most moderate of the GOP field, Huntsman has been more consistently conservative than Romney over the course of his career. Huntsman is also knowledgeable about, and experienced in, international relations - and for fervent starboard-siders, therein lies the rub.

That experience comes in part because he served as ambassador to China under Barack Obama. That’s not a general election problem, to be sure. Indeed, if nominated, Huntsman could have real appeal to the middle. But it is a primary hurdle.

So if Romney stays lucky, conservatives will keep looking askance at Huntsman and instead flirt with figures whose flaws become obvious almost as soon as they rise from the pack. If so, Mitt will remain the only safe and respectable choice in the top tier.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com.
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