Romney still in front after Super Tuesday

DAYTONA BEACH SHORES -- There were 10 state Republican primaries and caucuses held on Super Tuesday. The media insists that the only one that really matters is Ohio.

Mitt Romney seems to have eked out a late and rather narrow victory in Ohio. Indeed, his lead is so small that it could trigger the state’s automatic recount law. But even if Romney had lost Ohio by a few thousand votes, he will still have come away with the lion’s share of that state’s delegates because Santorum’s campaign failed to register him in 18 of Ohio’s districts, handing those 18 delegates to Romney before the first vote was cast.

The media is over focused on Ohio because of that state’s history in presidential elections. No Republican has ever won the presidency without also winning Ohio. But that statement implies that there is a direct connection between winning the GOP primary in Ohio and carrying that state in November.

I see no basis for such a connection. There is simply no reason to suppose that Ohio Republican voters will fail to support the Republican candidate in the Fall simply because he was not their first choice in the primary.

Gingrich a weakened regional candidate

 In the other contests, Newt Gingrich easily carried his home state of Georgia, giving him a widely-expected favorite son victory. But he only placed third in Tennessee, a showing which strikes a blow at his “southern strategy.”

He has now won only in Georgia and South Carolina and hopes to win next week in Alabama and Mississippi and the following week in Louisiana. Even should he succeed in those three states, he will still be only a regional candidate running for a national office, albeit the region where his party is strongest. But if Gingrich fails to win two or more of those states he will be seen as lacking credibility even in his chosen region and this will finally doom his candidacy.

Some say that Gingrich is staying in the race hoping to trade his delegates for a choice speaking slot at the GOP convention. If that is truly his intent he might be better advised to abandon the race and throw his support to Santorum, who would stand a much better chance of defeating Romney if he and Ron Paul were Romney’s only rivals.

Gingrich is unlikely to consider any such move until he sees the outcome of the other southern contests.

Santorum still in the hunt

 

Rick Santorum fought Romney down to the wire in Ohio, just as he did in Michigan and Iowa. As noted above, he will not enjoy the full benefit of his fine showing because he failed to get on the ballot in 18 districts. Nevertheless he again demonstrated that he is the choice of the bulk of Republican conservatives as the “not Romney” candidate.

This will buoy his media image and probably also increase his flow of campaign donor cash, enabling him to remain a formidable opponent for Mitt Romney in many of the remaining contests. But there was a lot more to Super Tuesday for Santorum than just Ohio. He also won the primaries in Oklahoma and Tennessee, with Romney coming in second in both. And he won the caucus in North Dakota with Gingrich in second and Romney in third.

Santorum never had a hope of pushing past Romney on March 6. While he would have earned more frenzied media support had he won Ohio, in fact he has come out of Super Tuesday in about as strong a position as he could have expected.

Romney did not seal the deal on Super Tuesday as John McCain did in 2008. Though well behind in the delegate count, Rick Santorum is still a viable candidate with a chance - not a good chance, but still a chance – to overtake Romney and win the nomination.

Romney a weak frontrunner

Mitt Romney won five of the 10 contests on Super Tuesday, having now chalked up victories in all regions of the country. He won his home state of Massachusetts in a landslide and easily carried Virginia (where Santorum and Gingrich failed to qualify for the ballot) and Vermont. He also won the Idaho caucus by a wide margin.

Once again Romney’s superior organization and his large campaign war chest have stood him in good stead. But because of his narrow victory in Ohio, Romney is still seen, correctly, as unable to close the sale.

For example, one of Santorum’s strongest sectors in Ohio was blue collar workers. This suggests that his wealth and clumsy references to his wife’s Cadillacs or his friendship with NASCAR owners have added to his perceived lack of conservative credentials to preclude a solid connection with the working middle class.

That said, some 5% of Santorum’s support in Ohio seems to have come from Democrats voting in an open Republican primary in an attempt to throw the victory to Santorum.

Obviously that indicates that Romney’s true support among Ohio Republicans is somewhat stronger than the vote totals would suggest.

Romney went into Super Tuesday with more than double the delegates of his nearest rival – Santorum. It is not possible at this stage to calculate the various candidates’ delegate totals after Tuesday's votes, but Romney will surely emerge with something near 400 delegates, well ahead of any on his opponents.

Romney is not a strong candidate for the Republican nomination. But right now he is a stronger candidate than any of the others.

Romney is not a strong candidate for the Republican nomination. But right now he is a stronger candidate than any of the others.

At this point, Romney continues to move ahead like the tortoise in the fable – slow and steady progress until he wins the race. His problem remains what it has always been. His record is too moderate to earn him the enthusiastic support of Republican conservatives, especially the Tea Parties and the 9/12er’s. But once Mitt Romney wins the nomination, if he does, that record will become an advantage.

The conservative vote alone will not win the general election against Barack Obama. Romney must move from the right to the center to garner the moderate vote, which, along with the conservative right, if Romney can hold them, will perhaps give him enough support to overcome the massive coalition of ideologues and dependent minorities which Obama and the Dems have created.

Alone among the Republican candidates, Romney has the credibility with moderates to pull off that shift. I believe that antipathy to Obama is so strong among the conservative right that they will vote for Romney even if they do not truly like him to protect the country from another Obama term in office. If not, President Obama will win a second term.

March 7, 2012
Stan Escudero

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The Guidepost By Stan Escudero
Stan Escudero is a career diplomat and businessman, who lives in Daytona Beach Shores with his wife, Jaye.

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