Knowing former Gov. Mitt Romney, we know he knows the meaning of this Crimson college newspaper headline: "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29," a hallowed day in 1968 for Harvard history.
Even if he wasn't present in the packed football stadium witnessing the "victory" by jubilant Harvard over heavily favored Yale, that game is a cultural touchstone for the men of Harvard. He holds degrees from the law and business schools by the Charles River in Cambridge, Mass.
But does Romney know what the headline means for him today, as the favored Republican presidential primary contender facing the most meaningful primary of them all?
Yes, I think the Ivy Leaguer does know the message and the stakes for his strategic situation. Harvard's 16 points on the board in the last 42 seconds is something they're all still talking about in his crowd as a once-in-a-lifetime event. It's even the focus of a documentary that seems hilarious and tragic at the same time—given the offstage character of the Vietnam War raging. Tommy Lee Jones played in that game. Meryl Streep watched it as a young drama student on a date. The black and white captures the wind in the air.
The Big Game moral means that when an underdog comes so close to winning, whether by eight seconds, inches, or votes, the tie tilts toward victory for the man or team on the field that made some magic happen, confounding experts. In the presidential field so far, the unlikely former Sen. Rick Santorum is that feisty guy, coming out of Iowa with a moral victory written on his face.
For Romney, his narrow win in Iowa was not a triumph to write home about, just a saving grace and a tribute to his richly funded Organization Man skills. But as the Yale Bulldogs went home to New Haven unhappy, tails between their lags, Romney is walking home without a spring in his sporty step.
Luckily for him, home is New England, where the second contest will be played out. New Hampshire voters consider themselves in a political class apart, too special to take cues from an Iowa electorate. That's just a fact, but it plays very much to Romney's favor, and not a moment too soon for him to live up to large expectations.
So, Romney needs to win—but more than that. He had better win big as a Nor'easter blizzard to send the rest of the "rans" scurrying down to South Carolina for cover and shelter.
I'll be confounded if New Hampshire doesn't give the game going away to Romney. No partisan can deny he's a man of impressive accomplishment and distinction, a man a state or region can claim as their own with homegrown pride. By contrast, I don't think Pennsylvanians feel a rosy glow about their former senator, the arch-conservative upstart Santorum, whom voters decisively turned out of office in 2006. Correct me if I'm wrong.
Four years ago, the media mind was set for Barack Obama to win New Hampshire just because he triumphed in Iowa. If you recall pundits gleefully ruling Hillary Clinton out of the race on the night of the New Hampshire primary, before a vote was counted, that's a refresher for how sure New Hampshire voters are to disregard the voice of Iowa.
If I were voting in the Granite State tomorrow, somehow a registered Republican, it would have to be for former Gov.Jon M. Huntsman, Romney's Mormon comrade, a liberal's dream date across the aisle.
One more word to whisper to the Ivy man: if you don't win big in your own backyard, Mitt, it will be counted as a loss. South Carolina will then blow this race wide open. As another terribly close clash shows, it's a mischievous state that will not be so kind to a Yankee.