OPINION AND COMMENTARY
March 6, 2012
A little more than four years ago, after winning only three of 17 Super Tuesday states in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reassessed his campaign and decided the time had come to call it quits.
Super Tuesday 2012 has come and gone, and while he won’t be bowing out anytime soon, Romney is faced with a new dilemma this time around: how to shake his four remaining challengers and secure the GOP presidential nomination for the right to oppose President Barack Obama in the November election.
Romney and his top rival for the nomination, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, each won their share of states and delegates Tuesday, and they had to wait until Tuesday became Wednesday to learn that Romney had barely edged Santorum in Ohio. Romney also prevailed in his home state of Massachusetts, neighboring Vermont, Mormon-heavy Idaho and in a one-on-one matchup against Texas Rep. Ron Paul in Virginia, where Santorum and former Speaker Newt Gingrich failed to qualify for the ballot.
For his part, Santorum prevailed in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota, while Gingrich won a decisive victory in Georgia. Results from the Alaska caucuses, where former half-term governor and failed 2008 vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin cast her vote for Gingrich, will be known early Wednesday.
Romney can’t deliver knockout punch
Even with his narrow win in Ohio, Romney failed to deliver the so-called “knockout blow” his supporters were hoping for. With Santorum winning three states and battling Romney tooth-and-nail in Ohio, the Romney campaign has to be assessing the road ahead and asking if there is, in fact, a path to a first-ballot nomination. The answer, it would seem, rests not with the Romney campaign but on whether his rivals bow out sooner rather than later.
Ironically, perhaps the best indication of Romney’s weakness as a potential nominee came in Virginia, a state he won. The state has a somewhat complicated ballot qualification process, and Romney and Paul were the only choices presented to voters in the state’s open primary. Polls leading up to election showed Romney with nearly 70 percent support and Paul under 30 percent, but that’s not how the final total shook out. Romney won, but Paul garnered his highest vote totals of any state thus car. The latest returns showed Romney with about 60 percent to Paul’s 40 percent.
Former Bill Clinton adviser and Fox News analyst Dick Morris presents a fairly compelling mathematical case that neither Santorum, Gingrich or Paul will get enough delegates from here until the GOP convention in late August to beat Romney on the first ballot, so they should all drop out and let Romney coast his way to the nomination. This, Morris argues, is the only way the GOP will have a chance to beat Obama. He figures that six more months of Republican candidates beating each other up cannot help the party’s chances this fall.
Romney’s weaknesses clearly exposed in Virginia
But Morris, for all his political experience, overlooks two very important points, both clearly discernible in the Virginia results: One, that for whatever reason or reasons, Romney is a flawed candidate; and two, that Paul’s message of individual liberty and adherence to the Constitution is one that Paul voters won’t find in Romney.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican turned Libertarian who will likely be the LP presidential nominee and appear on the ballot in all 50 states, has to be encouraged by the Virginia results because it proves that four out of 10 Republicans, when faced with a choice between Romney and one other candidate, could not bring themselves to vote for the man who still has to be considered the Republican frontrunner, albeit a weak one. Romney can’t seal the deal for one simple reason – he simply doesn’t appeal to enough elements of the party to unite it.
With a fairly light primary and caucus schedule remaining for March, and three of those contests to be held in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana – all states that Gingrich could win – Romney’s best hope for a meaningful win later in the month is Illinois. Santorum won the “beauty contest” in Missouri earlier this year, and he may well win the caucuses scheduled for March 17. He should also fare well in Kansas. Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico also hold nominating contests this month, so by the time all is said and done, Santorum and Gingrich could combine to easily exceed Romney’s total for states won in March.
Four years ago, it was all over for Romney by March. This time, he had hoped to seal the deal on Super Tuesday. Instead, he finds himself slugging it out with three candidates representing at least two very different wings of the Republican Party. If he can’t find a way to bridge those gaps in support soon, he may well lack the enthusiastic base needed to defeat Obama even if he does eventually win the Republican nomination.
SOURCES & RESOURCES:
Following disappointing Super Tuesday, Romney considers his options, cbsnews.com, Feb. 6, 2008
Mitt quits – Romney concedes race, takes jabs at Demos, deseretnews.com, Feb. 8, 2008
State party rules give candidates shot at big Super Tuesday gains, CNN, March 6, 2012
After Super Tuesday… by Dick Morris, thehill.com, March 6, 2012
Romney appears the Ohio winner; Santorum strong, New York Times, March 6, 2012
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