After a long evening of vote counting in 10 state primary elections and caucus votes, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has pulled ahead of his rivals for the nomination. But he has yet to clinch the deal firmly with many Republican voters to become the GOP man to challenge Barack Obama. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
In the broad-brush statewide wins, on Super Tuesday, 6 March, Romney carried Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia, Idaho and Ohio (where the vote has been very close); former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum carried North Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma; and former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia. While pre-Super Tuesday projections indicated that Texas congressman Ron Paul was likely to win in Alaska, Romney carried this state too.
Rather than a smashing evening where he could emerge as a decisive frontrunner, long-time political operative CNN’s David Gergen’s verdict was that for all his effort and money spent, Mitt Romney had dodged a bullet. But the real details were in the delegate count and here Romney’s victory was somewhat amplified because of this year’s Republican Party rules that have allotted delegates both on winning percentages statewide and congressional district by district. Romney’s wins in a state like Virginia, where Gingrich and Santorum were not even on the ballot, assured Romney’s delegate totals were growing faster than those of his closest rival, Santorum.
Throughout the evening’s vote counting, commentators pointed to the obvious fact that Romney’s camp decisively outspent its rivals in television advertising and other campaign costs. As a result, Romney’s wins on Super Tuesday may well have been more attributable to this spending gap rather than any real rush of enthusiasm for the candidate. Nevertheless, as the political adage has it: a win is a win is a win.
One potential red flag for Republicans is that, so far, much of the overall spending by all candidates has come from those Super PAC funds in which rich corporations and individuals not directly and officially tied to candidate campaigns spend some serious money on “issues”. Analysts are pointing to the fact that the candidates appear to have been having some difficulties so far in enticing citizens and voters to contribute to their official campaigns, this may turn into a challenge to the eventual nominee for the November general election against Barack Obama.
Still, despite his wins on Super Tuesday, it is not smooth sailing ahead for Mitt Romney. The next primaries take place the following week in the Deep South – Alabama and Mississippi – and these are almost certainly going to go Gingrich’s way, keeping him in the race, even though the odds of his actually winning the nomination once the race shifts to big states like California and New York, grow longer and longer as the campaign progresses.
Meanwhile, Ron Paul’s campaign rumbles on, winning relatively few delegates but deflecting some anti-Romney voters from coalescing around Santorum. In response to their continuing presence on the campaign trail, the Santorum campaign has also been encouraging Gingrich to withdraw from this campaign, arguing he can’t win the nomination, but by staying in the race, he too will guarantee an eventual Romney nomination as the state-by-state races continue forward.
Analysts were already pointing to a potential weakness for the Romney forces looking ahead to the general election. In Ohio, Romney won convincingly in the voting in that state’s big cities and suburban districts – but that was among Republican voters, of course. In the general election, with Republicans, Democrats and independents also voting, those same places are likely to go to Barack Obama instead, based on historical voting patterns. Because Romney failed to carry rural and small town Ohio in this primary and due to a distinct lack of enthusiasm for Romney in those areas, this may make it hard for Romney to carry the state, in November. And, since 1860, Republicans have never won a presidential election without carrying Ohio.
This race is not over, especially if you are a supporter of Santorum. And the infighting between him and Romney will only get more intense, angrier and more divisive as the remaining state-by-state races take place. The so-called culture war between Romney and Santorum’s competing views of what are the most important issues facing the US – economics versus things like right-to-life/gay rights issues – will continue. Taking all this into consideration, the loudest sound of cheering that you are hearing right now must surely be coming from the White House as they contemplate Barack Obama’s chances in the November election after a bloody, angry war of attrition among the Republicans. DM
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Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks to supporters at his “Super Tuesday” primary election night rally in Boston, Massachusetts, March 6, 2012. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi
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