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Inside the Boiler Room: The Difference Between McCain and Romney

NBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro discuss the difference between John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney’s 2012 bid for the White House.


Thanks to Jody, Iowa for the question!

Edited by NBC's Morgan Parmet.



MARK MURRAY: Welcome to the latest edition of Inside the Boiler Room. I'm Mark Murray, joined by my partner in crime, Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, we've got a question from Jody, Iowa,  long time commenter on the sight. Jody asks, "In 2008, Mike Huckabee won Iowa and won much of the South. In 2008, there was chatter about John McCain not being able to lock up the nomination. What do you think is the most significant difference between John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012?”

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, there are a couple of significant differences. One, just on how the mechanics of the nomination process works. Last time around, we had a lot of winner take all states. This time, because of how they changed the rules, they're more proportional. So a candidate could stay in longer.  So a lot of these candidates instead of dropping out because they know what momentum means, which was that they could get a lot of winner take all states and it would essential be over pretty soon. They figured, I'll stick around. Why not? I'll pick up some delegates.

But the other thing that's a real important difference between these two guys is narrative.

Mitt Romney doesn't have the thing that he could fall back on like John McCain did as a war hero. Every event that you went to with John McCain there was this war hero video that he would play. People respected and knew that background of him as somebody who had been tortured, who had a lot of credibility. So people didn't go personal on him because they knew of that backstory. So even for folks in the South who might not trust John McCain. For people who become Tea Party folks who didn't really love John McCain. They still held their fire a little bit because they knew of his backstory.

MARK MURRAY: Well, Domenico, this stage in 2008 in March, John McCain had almost something of a 45 positive/25 negative fave/unfave. Mitt Romney's numbers are actually under water on that score. You raise a really good point on the narrative.

I'd add just one more thing that John McCain was also a Maverick. He was willing to buck his party and that actually appealed with independents a lot and so he had those two things going for him.

Mitt Romney's narrative right now is I'm a business guy who can turn around the economy. That seems to be falling on flat ears with the Republican electorate so far even though he is ahead. 

One other thing, John McCain also won South Carolina, which Mitt Romney was unable to do. So when Mike Huckabee was able to beat John McCain in numerous southern contests, particularly on Super Tuesday in 2008. John McCain was able to say look I still won the state that had at that point always decided presidential nominating contest. 

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well and I think your point on the appeal to independents is something that is different from last time around because John McCain, having that Maverick narrative, he did have that positive score which would help him in a general election. Of he wound up losing anyway, but Mitt Romney seems to have been hurt in this process among independents. I'm sure how much the Maverick thing helped him with Republican primary voters. He had basically an apology tour for bucking his party on one major issue which was immigration.


DOMENICO MONTANARO: And until he was able to overcome that hurdle, it was very difficult to see him getting the nomination, but he did unlike Mitt Romney in healthcare.