A coalition of conservatives is working to organize the disparate groups opposing Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential nominee.
While much has been made of Romney’s lack of support among conservative Republicans, the sense of malaise has mostly manifested as a lack of enthusiasm rather than outright opposition. That could all be about to change.
The new coalition is seeking to push back against the narrative that Romney is the “inevitable nominee," according to spokesman and activist Ali Akbar.
The “inevitable” Romney storyline has been growing. The former Massachusetts governor has been at or near the top of the polls since the race began; conservatives have not rallied around a candidate to oppose him; and his nearest competition, businessman Herman Cain, faces allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior.
Akbar hopes the effort will help provide a framework to gather leaders behind the conservative candidate who will eventually become the movement’s preferred option to Romney.
“We’re treading water until this viable candidate presents him- or herself,” Akbar said, suggesting it will happen sometime after Florida’s primary on Jan. 31.
However, that might be too late. There is a growing sense among political observers that the GOP nomination could be decided by Florida. If Romney does well in Iowa and wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina, he could lock up the nomination by Florida. He is leading in the polls in New Hampshire and comes in second in Iowa and South Carolina polling.
If there is no clear nominee by the end of January, the race will likely go to the beginning of March, when several states hold their nominating contests on Super Tuesday.
A lot of factors could change the race between now and when voters in the early-voting states go to the polls in January, but the undercurrent of Romney’s inevitability is growing.
Influential conservative blogger Erick Erickson wrote on his RedState blog Tuesday: “Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee. And his general election campaign will be an utter disaster for conservatives as he takes the GOP down with him and burns up what it means to be a conservative in the process. … Mitt Romney will be the nominee because the other candidates, right now, are a pretty pathetic lot.”
Akbar said Erickson's argument "gives weight" to the coalition. "[Erickson]'s posting reflects the notion that many of us feel isn’t being represented in the press, and certainly not among our detractors — that while conservatives are just as worried about putting up a viable candidate, we are more worried with the Electoral College than Romney supporters who are quick to cite national polls that he is now losing; we fundamentally want to win,” Akbar said in a statement.
Erickson is not a part of the anti-Romney coalition, but it has gathered prominent right-wing bloggers such as John Hawkins and Atlas Shrugs’s Pamela Geller, as well as activists working against Romney with opposition campaigns in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
The NotMittRomney coalition is focusing on Iowa first, and eventually Florida. The group is fundraising quietly but has not yet met the required limit to file as a political action committee with the Federal Election Commission. “This is about building a coalition first,” said Akbar.
The goal of the coalition is not to draw together various anti-Romney efforts under one umbrella but to help them communicate. Grassroots and online organizations proved to be effective in gathering force behind the Tea Party movement in 2009, and the coalition intends to take advantage of tools such as social media, according to Akbar.
Romney has downplayed criticism of him by conservatives in the past. Earlier in the week, he told ABC News that people could look at his life, his book and his record to see his positions.
"People know how I've lived my life and what I believe on the major issues of the day," he said. "I'll let the slings and arrows come, as they may. And continue talking about the failure of this presidency."
The NotMittRomney website includes a petition for those who agree that “Mitt Romney should not be our nominee." Akbar would not give the number of petition signers but said they have already exceeded the group’s estimated metrics.
Two petition signers represent two of the conservative political action committees already fundraising with the intention to oppose Romney ahead of the primaries in key states.
One, the Western Representation PAC, plans to air TV and radio ads statewide close to the New Hampshire primary. New Hampshire is a state that is widely credited as Romney’s to lose and he has staked his campaign’s fortune on winning there. According to co-founder Dustin Stockton, the group is “on pace” to raise more than half a million in funds targeted specifically to stop Romney in the state.
The PAC, founded in 2009, includes various Tea Party activists, including Joe Miller, who lost his bid for an Alaska Senate seat to establishment candidate Lisa Murkowski in 2010.
The group is raising money primarily through its email database, composed of conservatives who donated to previous similar causes such as the group’s founding purpose to oppose Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) reelection bid.
The Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama is another PAC fundraising for an anti-Romney campaign that the group plans to launch first in Iowa and later in New Hampshire. The group has so far released a Web ad slamming Romney as a flip- flopper on the issues — an accusation common among both Romney’s conservative and liberal critics.
“Our focus is going to be Iowa for right now, to try to poke holes in the idea that he’s the inevitable candidate and that anyone else has to go up against him for second place instead of for first,” said the group’s spokesman, Ryan Gill.