Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dodging a Bullet: Quick Thoughts on the Romney Victory and the Problems Ahead

Romney dodges two bullets. His double wins in Arizona and Michigan ensure he is the frontrunner and forestall even more panic among the GOP. But more importantly, his win in Michigan saves him from embarrassment that he cannot win his home state.

But all is not well in Romney city. He was expected to win in Michigan, but barely hung on. In some ways his victory here was less impressive than four years ago.

In 2008 Romney won Michigan with 39% of the vote compared to McCain with 30% of the vote. In 2008 Romney won 20 delegates. In 2008 Romney did win a greater percentage of the vote with 41%, but Santorum came in second with 38%. Instead of a margin of victory of 9%, it was 3%, and with a much less crowded field than in 2008. This time Romney only won 11 delegates and Santorum received the same. The one bright spot is that in 2008 Romney won 338,316 votes, in 2012 it was 410,000. It is possible that without a contested Democratic primary Romney benefited from a larger turnout.

After Michigan there is still no indication that Romney has closed the gap with the social conservatives or the Reagan Democrats. His campaign demonstrates continued strategic ills such as his decision to do a rally in the near empty Ford Stadium, and Romney himself concedes that his gaffes are hurting him. His negative ratings continue to rise. Moreover, the negative attack ads all of the GOP are using are damaging the party badly. Unlike 2008 with Obama-Clinton, Obama came out a better and strong candidate. The opposite is happening with the Republicans and Romney.

Put simply: He is not sealing the deal with a large active base of his party and there is no indication that he is helping himself with the swing voters if he moves beyond the nomination to the general election. He cannot win over the right of his party and he cannot win over the moderate swing voters. He is caught in a political squeeze that is hard to escape.

Final thoughts: Super Tuesday next week. Polls now have Santorum leading but that may change. Gingrich has a chance in Georgia and Tennessee and that may add a new dynamic to the race. Romney ventures into a south full of white evangelical voters who do not like him, but who like Santorum. Even after Romney's two victories, it is too soon to call the race over.

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