Mitt Romney's day wasn't supposed to go like this. Romney was supposed to be campaigning happily in South Carolina — a state where he's gained in the polls thanks to beefy advertising time and a heavy event schedule. But as he was giving his speech on education this morning, word trickled down that two of his rivals nabbed high-profile endorsements from the religious right.
Today's endorsement-palooza — Pat Robertson backed Giuliani and Sam Brownback supported John McCain — hurts Romney in Iowa the most. Romney has led the polls in the state since June and ran away with the Ames Straw Poll in August. (Giuliani and McCain did not compete.) But both of today's endorsers have a broad base of support in Iowa, something McCain and Giuliani don't have.
Robertson ran for president in 1988 and finished a surprising second place in the Hawkeye State. Second wouldn't be too bad for Giuliani, who trails Mike Huckabee in the polls. Giuliani's campaign has recently shifted strategy , basically acknowledging that they need to do well in Iowa or New Hampshire to build up momentum going into Tsnuami Tuesday on Feb. 5. Now, with Robertson by his side, Giuliani is armed with a Republican foil who can help anchor him to the religious right. Romney is already fighting with Huckabee for the religious right's vote in Iowa, so he'd prefer if Giuliani stayed out of it.
McCain, meanwhile, has picked up more of a wildcard in Brownback. The two senators announced the endorsement in Iowa, where Brownback's support was strongest. (He finished third in the straw poll.) McCain is currently toiling in fifth place there and, in some polls, finds Ron Paul nipping at his heels. If McCain can use Brownback to reach out to Christian conservatives and finish in third (behind Romney and Huckabee) in Iowa, then he can use that momentum to roll through New Hampshire. But all is not rosy. The nightmare scenario for McCain — and a real possibility — is if Pat Robertson soaks up all the votes Brownback might have given him.
Most importantly, this whole thing yanks Romney's recent religious right endorsement , that of Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich, out of the spotlight. In the religious hierarchy of the week's endorsements, Robertson trumps Weyrich and Weyrich trumps Brownback.
All of a sudden, Romney's pre-emptive anti-Rudy direct mail campaign in Iowa this week is starting to seem prescient.