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Romney on Track but Santorum Sticking Around

Jim Malone

March 7, 2012

It’s a Long and Winding Road to Tampa

Of the 10 contests for the Republican Party presidential nomination on Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney won six.

He is now well ahead in the delegate count compiled by the Associated Press, with more than 400 delegates in his corner. Rick Santorum is next at 176, with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul trailing behind.

Romney is now about one-third of the way toward getting the 1,144 delegates he needs to win the Republican nomination. So, like, it’s over, right?

Well, not quite. Romney won where he was supposed to (in New England and Idaho) and barely held on where he had to (Ohio). Santorum showed strength in the South (Oklahoma and Tennessee) and among conservatives, while Gingrich at least rejoins the discussion with his win in Georgia.

A narrow win in Ohio is a lot better than a narrow loss for Romney. But he didn’t do much to quell the doubt among conservative Republicans that he’ll ever win their hearts or minds.

Santorum now has more than enough fuel to keep going and Gingrich hopes to further his resurgence next week in Alabama and Mississippi. The upcoming schedule does not look kind to Romney, with Kansas and Missouri about to weigh in, providing ample opportunities for the non-Romney’s to stay in the game.

Further down the line, the schedule should help Romney once we get to Illinois later in March, and then Maryland and Wisconsin in early April.

Romney may be looking to nail things down, at least psychologically, by April 24th when Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island hold their contests. With the exception of Pennsylvania, Santorum’s home state, that should be a big night for Romney and could finally allow him to claim that he is the presumptive nominee.

But there’s a lot of time between now and then.

Romney Still Facing Conservative Skeptics

So you’re out covering a primary and asking voters what they think about Mitt Romney. You begin to realize that about every third or fourth conservative person you ask initially gives you a non-verbal reaction like an eye-roll or a gag reflex.

Folks, this is not good. Again these tend to be the hard-core conservative voters, the people who invoke the names of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater with a wistful sense of “if only they were around today.”

Romney has always had a problem with these people because they don’t trust him, don’t think he’s authentic.

They think he’s a moderate trying too hard to remake himself into a true conservative. They recall his health care program in Massachusetts and some of the moderate things he said while running for the Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994, and just don’t buy the new conservative Mitt.

Some recent polls suggest Romney may be chipping away at the resistance from conservatives and Tea Party supporters and even some southerners. But this is going to take a while and will be primarily driven, in the end, by some sort of acceptance by conservatives that he is the only viable alternative to take on President Obama.

But in the wake of Super Tuesday, the primary results continue to say we are not there yet, and this process has to play out.

You simply can’t go that quickly from a party dominated by the screaming activists of the Tea Party in 2010 that led to a takeover of the House of Representatives, to a more moderate, cautious presence as the party’s presidential nominee two years later.

Romney will have to continue to wear them down and convince them that he is sincere. The problem is that could literally take a couple of months and in the process he could damage his standing with independent voters, women and Hispanic-Americans.

Obama Reaps the Benefits of the Republican Catfight

We’ve talked about the four Republican contenders, but there is one other candidate who appears to be doing pretty well as a result of the Republican primaries—President Obama.

Improvements in the U.S. economy have led to the political equivalent of “incumbent’s gold,” the slowly growing perception among the public that the economy is actually improving. Pair that with a falling unemployment rate and you’ve got a winning formula for re-election (see Reagan, R. circa 1984).

The contentious Republican primary battle between Romney, Santorum and the others is helping Obama, at least for now, because the Republicans keep pushing each other further to right, raising doubts among independent voters who generally vote for a candidate who gets results, not someone tied to a specific ideology.

In addition, Obama benefits from the recent flap over birth control and the caustic remarks from conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh targeting Sandra Fluke, a law school student at the center of the birth control debate. These have turned off independent women voters and fired up women activists on the Democratic side.

Further, Romney’s efforts to convince the right that he is tough on illegal immigration have put off Hispanic voters, an increasingly important voting bloc in national elections. One recent poll had Romney winning favorable reviews from only 14 percent of Hispanics, well below the percentage of support he would like to have in a general election matchup with President Obama.

Much of this could change later this year, however. Once a candidate secures the party nomination, there is a tendency for many voters to press the ‘reset’ button and take another look at the one-on-one matchup for November. At least at this point, that’s what many Republicans are hoping.

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