By Richard A. Lee
In one of the most memorable scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a character known only as the Black Knight engages King Arthur in a swordfight and quickly loses his arm in the duel. Undaunted, he continues the battle, even as the king chops off his other arm and then each of his legs. The Black Knight survives, but is reduced to a bloody stump of a man.
I found the scene from this 1974 British comedy replaying in my head this week as I followed the New Hampshire Republican primary. Although former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the contest and strengthened his frontrunner status, he suffered plenty of bumps and bruises in the Granite State. Unlike the Black Knight, he did not lose any limbs, but his victory did not come without a price.
Romney’s GOP opponents raised questions and concerns about his record at Bain Capital, charging that he actually cost Americans jobs while leading the Boston-based asset management and financial services company. The charges not only weakened Romney’s ability to tout his business experience in the campaign; they also provided Democrats with ammunition to use against him in the general election. Romney also suffered self-inflicted damage through his poor word choices at campaign events in New Hampshire.
Nevertheless, barring an unforeseen development, Romney likely will win the Republican nomination and run as the GOP candidate for president in the fall. He may have won Iowa by just eight votes, but a win is a win. Likewise, as a former Massachusetts governor, he went into neighboring New Hampshire with an advantage and was expected to win. And he did win -- by double digits and despite sharp attacks from his fellow Republicans, as well as the damage he did to himself.
The problem confronting Romney is his inability to deliver a knockout punch to the rest of the GOP presidential field. Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and a re-energized Jon Huntsman all will be back for South Carolina’s January 21 primary, which is shaping up as the most brutal contest in the early stages of the campaign. And all five of Romney’s opponents could very well still be in the hunt when Florida holds its primary on January 31.
Like the Black Knight, Romney will survive through Florida and beyond, but he will continue to get beat up every step of the way and could end up as a virtual bloody stump of a candidate by the time the Republican National Convention takes place in Tampa this August.
Such a scenario has Democrats salivating, but it’s unlikely to happen. As the primary campaign continues, Romney holds a distinct advantage over every candidate in the Republican field. By far, his campaign is better funded and organized than any of the others. He has the ability to outlast every other candidate ; he just needs to do so with all of his limbs intact.
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Richard A. Lee, who has more than 30 years of professional experience in journalism, government and politics, is an assistant professor in the Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Bonaventure University. Read more of Rich's columns at richleeonline and follow him on Twitter @richleeonline.