The “Wall Street financier” beat the “economic lightweight” tonight in the Land of Lincoln but the Republican race is still going to continue. Santorum lost by double digits but in any normal year he should have lost by far more. The voter turnout as in most previous GOP primaries was lower than 2008 which points to problems later on because it shows that in spite of their dislike for President Obama is that the GOP is not excited about its candidates. The rhetoric continues to spiral into the land of frustration and anger as both candidates and campaigns have resorted to elementary school playground type name calling.
Romney’s win was important coming on the heels of coming in third in both Mississippi and Alabama. In that sense it was a big win, perhaps his biggest win of this primary season to date. But Romney needs to win more and put Santorum away and try to collect the support of Evangelical Christian social conservatives who heavily back Santorum. If Santorum comes back with a win in Louisiana the talk will shift back to how Romney cannot seal the deal.
The vote showed Santorum’s weaknesses as well as the irrelevance of Newt Gingrich who is by all reason is splitting the conservative vote and hindering Santorum in is battle against Romney.
There are signs both Santorum and Romney are wearing thin on the independent vote on which the election will hinge. Polls show that both men have much higher negative ratings from independents than does President Obama. The issue with Romney is that he seems out of touch and Santorum because he seems too extreme. Perception matters and neither Santorum or Romney seem to get the fact that the way that they come across does matter. Tommy Lasorda noted something about baseball that I think is very applicable in a Presidential campaign of this nature. “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.” In such a polarized race the independents are that third that make the difference even if they aren’t exactly a third of the electorate.
My prediction is that as both campaigns continue to battle each other that they will continue to widen the rift between the Santorum and Romney supporters. I still believe that this race continues deep into the primary season if not all the way to Orlando. I think that even if it looks like Romney will wrap up the nomination that many Evangelical Christian social conservatives and quite probably much of the Tea Party wing will feel alienated from the GOP and with well over 25% of GOP voters saying that a candidates religion was a “very important factor” in their vote it is possible that Romney will not get their support even as the nominee. In a close election that will matter. Both parties have to lock up their base while winning the independents. Any crack in the GOP base could be disastrous to their nominee.
The lack of enthusiasm for any of the candidates was shown in the exit polls tonight where 39% of GOP voters indicated that they are not satisfied with their candidates and that the numbers of Republicans voting today were a record low for the state.
Romney is winning in the urban areas and losing in the rural areas; a trend that has been constant this primary season. The problem in this is that any GOP nominee has to have strong support in rural areas because in many states the urban areas traditionally vote Democrat and will be won by President Obama in the November general election regardless of who the GOP nominee is. The evidence of this is shown in in the Missouri caucuses last weekend where the largest country caucus in St Charles County had to be broken up by the police at the organizers’s request because of the chaos at the site. The battle for delegates across the country especially in caucus states is so clouded it is difficult to tell exactly what the count really is despite each candidate’s spin. I have linked two videos showing the chaos of that event.
Romney has had to spend huge amounts of money to bury his competition, money that will not be available for the general election. He and his Super PAC allies outspent Santorum 7-1 in Illinois. The longer the campaign goes and the more invective spent on each other the more likely it is that whoever the nominee is will come out wounded, especially in the eyes of the independent voters. They will decide the election.
This will continue to be interesting.