A (sort of) deviation into politics:
It’s been a bad few days for Massachusetts products going for national success. On Sunday, the Patriots lost a heartbreaker in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants for the second time in 5 years. Last night, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney – presumptive nominee for the Republican Party’s Presidential nomination, got creamed when three states held primaries or caucuses.
After his convincing win in Florida, rebounding from a resounding South Carolina loss, I had more or less stopped paying attention, assuming that Romney was on his way to what has long felt like an inevitable victory. I was stunned to see him not only lose last night, but lose badly in 2 of 3 contests.
The parallels go beyond the Massachusetts link. Romney in 2012 is a deceptively strong candidate; by all accounts, he should be doing well, with a huge edge in fund raising and organizing. But he’s held back by a seemingly crippling unlikability. Similarly, the Patriots in 2012 were a deceptively good team. They won 12 regular season games, and made it within a play of winning the Super Bowl, but in the end, their only win against a better than .500 team came in the AFC title game, when Baltimore’s kicker missed a chip shot.
Those parallels are neat, but what’s happening in the GoP race really mirrors the 2008 Super Bowl. Romney, for his flaws, has a formidable campaign, and is way above the field in every respect (it’s not like people are flocking to embrace his opponents). Similarly, the 2007 Patriots were a legitimately great team, boasting the best offense, and a top-tier defense as well. In the Super Bowl, they ran into a hot, yet seemingly over matched team (the Pats were a 12 point favorite that year, compared to 2 1/2 this time).
So what happened? The teams played a sluggish first three quarters, with New England clinging to a 7-3 lead for much of it. Though the Giants were long one play away from the lead, it felt like it should just be a matter of time before the Patriots pulled away. But that’s the thing with sports (and other contests). Sometimes, the unexpected happens, and the underdog wins. And the longer you let an underdog hang around, the better a chance they have of surprising the seemingly pre-ordained favorite.
Romney has been expected to win for a while. He staved off a Newt Gingrich surge in December, recovered after Rick Santorum’s surprise showing in Iowa, then buried Gingrich after another surge led to his convincing South Carolina win. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he crashed against Santorum last night.
He’s still the heavy betting favorite, and it feels improbable to imagine anything but a Romney win in the Republican Party. In fact, he’ll probably end up winning. But, every time so far that he’s looks poised to pull away, he’s come crashing back to earth. His opponents just keep hanging around, and the longer they hang around, the more I start to think something improbable like this will happen to swing the race away from him.