Mitt Romney at a town hall in Dayton Ohio (Flickr/NewsHour)
Tomorrow night's primaries could end up being anticlimactic after Republicans have spent the past few week fretting about Mitt Romney's inability to win Southern states. So far, the Bible Belt has been his weakest territory to date. While Romney could lose every state in the Deep South and still gain the required number of delegates, conservatives have been worried about the fractured nature of a party where the likely nominee fails to win the most reliably Republican region of the country.
The basics of simple math are seeping into the 2012 race as the media challenges Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to reconcile with the fact that reaching the required 1,144 delegates has become a near statistical impossibility. The candidates themselves might not cop to these facts, but it's clear they've shifted gears, turning the focus from winning a majority themselves to blocking Mitt Romney from gaining enough delegates to win on the first ballot in Tampa.
Earlier this week, I postulated that Rick Santorum needs to firmly position himself as Romney's runner-up to put himself in line to be the party's pick in 2016. Salon's Alex Pareene followed the similar logic but took it a step further, declaring, "Now Rick Santorum is the 2016 GOP nomination front-runner."
But political scientist Jonathan Bernstein isn't so convinced by the myth that Republicans turn to the runner-up in the previous presidential cycle to select a new nominee. Bernstein writes:
Rick Santorum speaking to supporters at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Frontloading HQ’s Josh Putnam crunches the numbers and finds that under the most optimistic scenario, Rick Santorum is limited to a delegate haul of 1,075, which falls somewhat short of the 1,144 needed to win the nomination.
Putnam notes that you could goose that even further and assume big wins for Santorum in the remaining primaries. Even still, the most he could win is 1,152 delegates. By contrast, Mitt Romney’s minimum 1,162 delegates while his maximum extends to 1,341 delegates.
Rick Santorum's chances to overcome Mitt Romney's delegate dominance disappeared last night. Romney now holds a 415-176 lead according to figures from the AP. Santorum got just enough good news that he won't need to drop out anytime soon, but that outcome seems inescapable now, whether it is tomorrow or at some point later this spring.
For all of his gaffes and unforced errors, it’s important to remember that Mitt Romney never promised to be a likeable presidential candidate, or someone for whom personality was a selling point. The point of Romney has always been that he is a generic Republican candidate, with the skills and profile necessary to win a general election. He has conventional experience (a business career with a stint in the public sector), a conventional persona (competent businessman), and a standard-issue message—the economy is off-track, and only I can bring it back to station.
Ahead of the likely celebratory night for Mitt Romney's supporters, I wrote a cautionary note this morning about why neutral observers shouldn't take Romney's success in the Republican primaries as a sign of they accept him as a moderate. Instead, Romney has gained his spot in the party by aligning himself with every conservative whim.
The people who vote in presidential primaries might be more partisan than the median voter, but that says nothing about their overall knowledge of the political process, or the candidates in particular. For the most part, presidential primaries are low-information elections: Few voters know anything about the candidates outside of what they learn from media, and the circumstances of presidential primaries—a relatively short window for campaigning, multiple candidates, and the fact that everyone belongs to the same party—make it difficult for voters to form strong opinions. Go to almost any primary event in any state, and you’ll meet a large number of attendees who are there with an open mind—they just want to see what the candidate "is all about.”
If current polls are right, Mitt Romney could wrap up the GOP nomination tonight. He's set to sweep the Northeast; faces no competition in delegate-rich Virginia, where Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich aren't even on the ballot; and his standing is rising in the southern states where he once looked vulnerable. He's edged ahead of Santorum in recent polls of Ohio, where the former Massachusetts governor has been gaining steam in the past few days. Tennessee—a state in which evangelicals dominate—looks like it will end up a three-way tie between Santorum, Romney, and Gingrich.
Liberals weren't too excited about their 2012 electoral chances a few months ago. Even if Barack Obama managed to hold onto the White House, simple math made it tough to imagine Democrats keeping their current majority in the Senate. Democrats will need to defend 23 seats this November, thanks to their success in the 2006-midterm elections, while Republicans only have 10 seats up for grabs. If Republicans manage to flip four seats in November, Mitch McConnell would start off 2013 as the Senate Majority Leader.
Despite the horse-race media coverage before tomorrow's Super Tuesday elections, Mitt Romney remains the odds-on favorite to take the GOP nomination. He has nearly double his leading opponent's delegates, dwarfs Rick Santorum's meager cash stockpile, and has a campaign organization that will go unmatched this late in the race.
As much as some Republicans would like to believe otherwise, the fact is that this primary is dragging down the party. Unlike the 2008 Democratic primary—in which two formidable candidates fought hard, debated substance, and energized voters around the country—this year’s GOP primary has been defined by clownish vanity candidates, divisive bickering, and an unlikable front-runner who—so far—has “won” by not losing.
The first post-Michigan poll of Ohio Republicans is out, and Mitt Romney has closed the gap. According to Quinnipiac University, Rick Santorum has 35 percent of likely primary voters to Romney, who takes 31 percent. Because of the poll’s margin of error, ±4.3 percentage points, Quinnipiac presents this as too close to call. But the survey shows native advantages for Santorum that could propel him to victory, as long as he avoids another weekend of national controversy.
For a brief moment yesterday it looked as though some GOP senators were ready to step back from the ledge, and reject their party's assault on women's rights. A handful of Republican senators were hesitant to endorse the controversial Blunt amendment, which would allow any employer—both secular and religious—to reject covering individual aspects of health insurance they find morally questionable, not just contraception. Even Mitt Romney expressed opposition to the bill when an Ohio reporter explained the implications before his campaign quickly realized they had defied party doctrine, and issued a clarification, which reversed Romney's earlier statement.
This week, Michigan was the “must win” state for Mitt Romney. Next week—according to the world of punditry—it’s Ohio, where Romney has to win over a similar electorate—downscale, blue-collar workers—without the help of name recognition or family ties. There, his tendency to remind voters of his massive wealth (in the worst way possible), could prove fatal.