If only the Republican primaries had a ballot line for “None of the Above.” That way, voters could finally bring clarity to the race and coalesce around a popular frontrunner.
But, alas, in the absence of NOTA, there is merely bruised and battered Mitt Romney, who escaped Stupor Tuesday by the skin of his perfect teeth, squeezing past Rick Santorum in crucial Ohio by a whopping .88 percentage points. Granted, Romney did pad his overall lead in delegates once the votes in all 10 states were tallied, and, yes, the delegate count is the most important measure. But Republican analyst and ex-Bush pollster Matthew Dowd is correct when he warns that Romney is shaping up to be “the weakest Republican nominee in more than a generation.”The big night brought no clarity; the GOP is still saddled with four underwhelming candidates, none of whom seem capable of uniting the party. Romney can’t close the deal with downscale or evangelical voters. Santorum can’t draw upscale or moderate voters. Newt Gingrich can’t do squat outside the Deep South. Ron Paul is barely worth this sentence. Hence, a stalemate. The upshot is that the often querulous quartet will soldier onward in its death march toward the summer convention. Romney is weak enough to give his rivals faint hope that he will be somehow be rejected at the eleventh hour. Which is why they’ll keep firing at him. Santorum will do it because he sincerely believes in his ideological mission; Gingrich will do it because his ego and bitterness and pathological need for attention give him no other option. And the more Romney bleeds, the more Barack Obama is likely to cement his lead.Romney is the weakest Republican front-runner in a generation because he can’t rally the grassroots populist conservatives whose enthusiasm is crucial in November. Ohio tells the tale. For starters, he won only 37.95 percent of the vote; four years ago, John McCain took 60 percent. And the exit polls last night detailed his ongoing woes with the party base. Nearly half the Ohio voters were evangelical or born-again Christians; they broke for Santorum by 17 percentage points. Nearly half described themselves as “very conservative”; they broke for Santorum by nine points. Nearly seven in 10 voters earn less than $100,000 a year; they broke for Santorum by roughly eight points. (Romney cleaned up with affluent voters, those making more than $100,000 – the only income bracket he captured. Without them, he would have been toast.)It was the same story in the big states that Santorum won last night, Tennessee and Oklahoma. In Tennessee, for instance, Romney lost every income bracket except for the voters whose annual pay tops 200 grand. He won only 25 percent of the voters who support the tea-party movement (six in 10 Tennessee voters support the movement). He won only 24 percent of the evangelicals (more than seven in 10 of the voting Tennesseans were evangelicals).Indeed, Romney still hasn’t managed to win a single contest in Dixie, not in 2008 nor 2012 (with the sole exception of Florida, which is heavily populated by northern migrants, and is therefore not really Dixie). That alone is a flashing red light, because Dixie is the GOP’s strongest bastion. If a front-runner can’t rally the base there, why should we presume he can rally the base in regions where Obama is far more competitive?Romney won only 28 percent of the vote last night in Tennessee. He won only 26 percent in Georgia. He won only 28 percent in Dixie-like Oklahoma. In Virginia, he had the ballot virtually all to himself (Gingrich and Santorum were too disorganized to qualify), yet he won only 59.5 percent in a pitifully low turnout contest; the rest voted for Ron Paul. In other words, a 40.5 percent anyone-but-Mitt vote in a gimmee primary. What’s wrong with this picture?Meanwhile, in aforementioned Ohio, Romney outspent Santorum by a margin of 10-1, during a stretch drive when Santorum had already hurt himself with stupid comments about JFK and college…yet Mitt had to wait until nearly midnight before the affluent, less conservative voters in the Cleveland suburbs dragged him across the finish line. It should worry Republican leaders (whoever they are) that their likely nominee has little clout with the party base in the most crucial of all swing states; no Republican has ever won the White House without capturing Ohio.So what’s next? A contest this weekend in Kansas (fertile turf for Santorum), followed by Alabama and Mississippi next Tuesday (where Santorum and Gingrich will do battle, with the former hoping to bury the latter and thus consolidate the non-Mittster forces). And the war of attrition continues. Romney’s rivals can’t beat him in the delegate count, but they can certainly spend the spring season beating him up. They can wait for some more rich-guy gaffes, Santorum can hammer him on Romneycare, they can maybe score some important wins in late primaries (Texas and Pennsylvania, for instance)…and hey, who knows, maybe some unpledged delegates will ultimately swing their way. Or maybe in some other direction; yesterday, on CNN, Sarah Palin – the real one, not Tina Fey or Julianne Moore – announced that her “door” was possibly open. (If only!)And, all the while, Democrats can sit back with popcorn and continue to marvel at their good fortune. By the way, care to guess who won the most votes last night in pivotal Ohio? That would be Barack Obama, on the Democratic side of the ledger, with 669,207. He topped Mitt by more than 200 thou. That says it all.
And now, an updated look at the standings of the 2012 Republican League – or what Barbara Bush calls the “worst campaign I’ve ever seen in my life.”
W LRomney 13 8Santorum 6 15Gingrich 2 19Paul 0 21
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