GOP Candidates Trudge Towards Super Tuesday
So why is Rick Santorum having trouble quelling his confidence in that tiny smile? Why is “Comeback Kid” — a persona Santorum sought uncontested possession of long before Tuesday night — suddenly tacked to bylines like a truism? When did the endorsement of Foster Friess, whose name objectively drips with fast food imagery more than political legitimacy, become more newsworthy than the Donald’s would-be golden boy?
The answer, much to the dismay of any American who likes a good horserace, revolves around Mitt Romney.
“Two caucuses and a non-binding primary aren’t going to upend the race by themselves, but it does point out how much of a challenge Romney still has with conservative voters” says Dan Schnur, campaign strategist and Director of the Unruh Institute of Politics, after Rick Santorum snatched the Missouri Primary and swept aside competitors in the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses Tuesday night.
Until this point, notes Schnur, Romney was helped to coast around the nations’ borders on the fallout of his competitors.
“Most people believed that Romney had an advantage because Gingrich and Santorum were splitting the conservative vote...which made Romney’s support look larger by comparison," he said.
While the former Massachusettes governor wasn’t equating gay marriage with polygamy, launching in orbit to Middle America (or outerspace for that matter), or adapting the word ‘liberty’ to just about every part of speech in every speech, the frontrunner was escaping any kind of fatal wound to the frontloading process. But with Super Tuesday less than a month away, Romney is going to have to set the standard.
“What’s becoming clear is that the best message that Romney has for Conservative voters is why the other candidate is unacceptable. He’s going to have to build on that,” says Schnur, who headed the 2000 Presidential campaign for Senator John McCain.
With his challengers launching into full offense and polarizing news surfacing lately, he’ll have his work cut out for him.
Newt Gingrich has already ditched February’s caucuses for the March madness; announcing Sunday on "Meet The Press" that his sights were set on Super Tuesday’s “favorable territory.” The former House Speaker is launching what appears to be a surprise effort in Ohio, despite expectations that Romney will rouse potent resources there that have been dormant from his presidential run four years ago.
Meanwhile, Santorum has announced that he will be focusing on this month’s states, which include Maine, Arizona, and Michigan. While Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have both made a big push for Maine, Romney is the clearer favorite in both Arizona and Michigan. After his most recent results however, Santorum is projecting a February takeover. The senator told MSNBC Wednesday “We think Michigan’s a great place for us to plant our flag.” Such an upset of a Romney win in that state, where his father is a popular former governor and auto executive, would cause “all out panic,” Schnur told Reuters last night.
Despite a New York Times article that quoted a senior republican official in Ohio's assurance that “Nationally, there is a feeling of inevitability about Romney,” any lack of momentum could have resounding effects on the governor’s position in this race. A long drawn out campaign that would replace anything but a Romney blowout on Super Tuesday might have more side effects than exhaustion on his march towards the nomination. With a number of controversies making headlines this week, candidates enter a rink of voters more polarized around issues than parties as took effect in Nevada and earlier caucuses.
Even with Intrade, a national prediction market, endowing Mitt Romney with an 82.1% chance of becoming the next Republican presidential candidate, any less promising statistics could make Super Tuesday significantly less so for Romney next month.
Reach Reporter Laura Walsh here.