Romney Rights His Ship

March 1, 2012

Jim Malone

Santorum and Maybe Gingrich Loom as Super Tuesday Threats

Let’s start with obvious. Mitt Romney did what he had to do on Tuesday — he won the Republican Party presidential primary election in his home state of Michigan. A defeat at the hands of Rick Santorum in the state Romney grew up in would have been a major setback for his presidential hopes.

So, he reared back, fired off his negative TV ads and took advantage of some Santorum missteps on tone to pull out a narrow victory. Romney also overcame some mistakes of his own like holding a speech in a nearly empty football stadium and inadvertently highlighting his wealthy background by talking about his NASCAR owner friends and his wife’s two Cadillacs.

But those missteps paled in comparison to some of Santorum’s comments, which seemed to border on rants. His shot at President Obama that he is a snob because he wants to make it easier for everyone to go to college was a huge misfire. Combine that with his comments about wanting to “throw up” after reading President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech as a candidate on maintaining the separation of church and state and that is a whole month of bad quotes in just one weekend!

One of the real dangers in all this is that Santorum, and to a lesser extent Romney, seem so intent on winning over conservative votes that they are taking huge risks in alienating moderate swing voters in the November general election against President Obama. Santorum just might have won Michigan if he had not gone off the rails with his comments about Obama being a snob and Kennedy making him sick.

On To Super Tuesday

This coming Tuesday is an especially important day in the U.S. political campaign calendar. Ten states hold either primaries or caucus votes on the same day, with more than 400 Republican delegates at stake. At this point it is hard to see one big winner coming out of the Super Tuesday contests.

Romney should win in the state he was governor, Massachusetts, and probably in Vermont, keeping his New England winning streak alive. He is also favored in Virginia where only he and Ron Paul are on the ballot because Gingrich and Santorum failed to get enough signatures to qualify.

Newt Gingrich hopes for a resurgence in the race by winning his home state of Georgia, and needs to have good showings in neighboring Tennessee and in Oklahoma, another conservative bastion. But some of the early polling suggests Gingrich could have a race on his hands from Santorum, especially in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Ron Paul would love to break through and get his first victory somewhere, maybe in Idaho, Alaska or North Dakota. In any event, he is not going anywhere and will remain in the race for the long haul no matter how he does on Tuesday.

Ohio is Super Tuesday’s Big Prize

The most competitive and sought-after state by most of the candidates will be Ohio, always a crucial state in the general election as well. Polls before the Michigan and Arizona results gave Santorum a lead in Ohio, but that is likely to shift in the wake of Romney’s latest victories.

Romney will not have the home state advantage in Ohio that he had in Michigan. If anything, Santorum can claim to be more of a native son given his roots in neighboring Pennsylvania and the similarities between the two states. But Gingrich hopes to make a play for some delegates in Ohio as well as he looks to stay viable in as many states as possible on March 6th.

So the major test on Super Tuesday will be in Ohio and the main showdown there will be between Romney and Santorum.

With 10 states voting on Super Tuesday, the result is likely to be some sort of split victory between Santorum, Romney and, to a lesser extent Gingrich. Romney would help himself enormously by winning not only in New England but in Ohio as well. Likewise, a Santorum victory in Ohio would allow those conservative doubts about Romney to fester and continue the chatter that the race might go all the way to the Republican convention in Tampa in August.

The other dynamic here will be how much of a comeback can Gingrich mount not only in Georgia but in Tennessee and Oklahoma. If Santorum does well in both Tennessee and Oklahoma and even gives Gingrich a challenge in Georgia, the calls will increase for Gingrich to get out of the race and leave Santorum as Romney’s main conservative challenger.

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