Saturday, March 03, 2012

Race for the White House

March is here, Super Tuesday is literally hours away,and at the moment, the finish line to the Republican nomination for Mitt Romney appears in sight.

Through an early primary seasons of ups and downs, momentum won and lost, Romney is once again a clear GOP front-runner nationally, and while he might not sweep this week's contests, his delegate lead and sense of inevitability could soon become impossible to overcome. To think, it was just a couple weeks ago, when people were talking about the prospect of a "brokered convention."

First, let's look back to last Tuesday, when Romney (whom everyone who reads this should know by now is my candidate), went two for two, capturing Arizona by 20 points, which was more than polls predicted, and then his native state of Michigan by three points. While a three point win in Michigan may seem a bit underwhelming at first glance, it is also true that Romney had trailed in Michigan polls since the Tuesday voting day, weeks earlier, and by as much as 15 points to Rick Santorum.

A week ago at this time, it was believed that Romney had perhaps gained the lead in Michigan, but polls earlier in the week showed that Santorum might have been gaining some points back, leading Michigan to be considered nothing less than a tossup on Election Day. Exit polls indicate that those who made their decision that day, broke to Romney, perhaps due to a backlash surrounding robocalls by the Santorum campaign to Democrats, inviting them to vote in the Republican Primary. The indication of those calls was not that they should support Santorum because they want him to be President, but as the means to politically harm Romney.

The concept of an "Operation Chaos" move by Michigan Democrats was something I first mentioned weeks ago, but last Saturday it looked like it might not materialize. However, by Tuesday, it was apparently very much a reality, and one that the Santorum campaign was more than willing to embrace for a temporary political victory. Romney and his surrogates appeared all over television on the eve of the election referring to the effort as "low" and a "dirty trick", leading some to comment that Romney and his backers were whining and that they should realize that "all is fair" in politics.

Nonetheless, that "whining" seemed to do the trick in regards to lighting a fire under Republican partisans to not let Democrats, labor unions, Michael Moore, or Daily Kos influence the results and that was probably the intent of the complaining after all. So, if all is fair politics, point matched and surpassed.

The exit polls did indicate that the most liberal voters who took a Republican ballot went heavily for Santorum and there is evidence to suggest that had those mischief makers not taken part in the voting, Romney's three point win would have been increased by several percentage points.

Popular voting aside, the two candidates split the state's 14 Congressional districts, and by Thursday, the state party decided that Romney would take 16 delegates to 14 for Santorum, despite the fact that the Santorum campaign declared they had won a majority or tied among delegates awarded and thus it was a great embarrassment for Romney. Santorum has since claimed that Romney and the state party colluded to commit some sort of election fraud and compared it to Iran.

Of course it would be far more difficult for Santorum to accept the fact that he had victory in Michigan nearly at hand but blew it by poor political messaging, by such things as accusing Barack Obama of being a snob in context to a discussion about how kids should go to college and saying that John F. Kennedy's famous speech on separation of church and state had made him want to throw up.

The Romney campaign did a great job in Michigan of trying to get to Santorum's right on spending issues and on being an "outsider", but it was these cultural landmines that Santorum stepped in that may have really knocked him out of this race.

A late endorsement for Romney by Kid Rock, (whose song "Born Free" had already been adopted as the Romney campaign theme) in his home state of Michigan and a musical appearance on the campaign trail probably did not hurt either. It was after the Michigan vote that Ted Nugent, the "Motor City Madman" lent his right-wing, hard rock credentials to the ranks of Romney backers.

When the history of this campaign is written, it may very well be that the final days in Michigan, which propelled Romney to victory, was the turning point in sealing away the entire nomination. The Wyoming Caucus, technically non-binding as many other contests thus far have been, went Romney, and as I write this, the Mittster looks like he is soon to be declared the winner of Washington's Caucuses, by a solid margin.

Typically dominated by social conservatives in Presidential primary cycles, Santorum had been well ahead in a couple Washington polls not long ago, but tonight, he appears as if he may finish third, behind Romney and also Ron Paul. This would be another substantial victory and could help continue the momentum into the nine states that will be voting on Tuesday. I may be biased, but my sense, as someone who has followed GOP politics for over two decades now, that the average rank and file party member has reached the conclusion that it is going to be Romney in the end, and that it's about time to start getting on with the general election.

Next, let's take a brief alphabetical preview look at Super Tuesday (which is substantially less Super than 2008 in terms of the number of states voting.) If Romney were to do well across the board, or simply manages to win the most anticipated of the states, I think a week from now, we will be referring to him as the presumptive nominee.

Alaska- have not seen any polling, so hard to get a handle on what will happen in the caucuses here. I think it is safe to say that Sarah Palin will not be casting a vote for Romney, but I think it is very possible that he could win here, which would be a surprise to many people. The conventional wisdom still though is that Santorum will win Alaska, although it is probably also true that this is Ron Paul's last best hope to finish first in any state.

Georgia-just about everyone now believes that Newt Gingrich will win the state from which he served in Congress for decades. He has focused on this state above all others and have given indications that he would drop out if he fails to win it. Polls show that Gingrich is well ahead but that Romney may now have moved ahead of Santorum for second place. Romney might do well in Metro Atlanta and thus take a share of the delegates. This would just be the second state Gingrich would win, and whether it is just a valedictory triumph to end his political career or the signal that Gingrich has once again surpassed Santorum as the final "anti-Romney" will remain to be seen.

Idaho- Romney, Santorum, and Paul have all targeted the state, trying to get as many delegates as possible out of it. A week or so ago, the media would have said that Santorum would have the edge with a very conservative constituency, but I was always mindful that Idaho was the second most Mormon state in the country, and thus, I would be especially surprised if Romney does not carry it. I would think Santorum is now more likely to finish third in the land of potatoes, behind Paul.

Massachusetts- For all the inaccurate talk of Romney's native Michigan being his "home state", this is really his home state and the people who have known him best will give him by far the widest win for any candidate in any state. The other GOP contenders in the race should be so lucky.

Update: Romney wins Washington! Yes!

North Dakota- no polling for this state's caucuses either than I have seen, so it could be a wildcard. Can Paul actually win a small contest like this? Will Santorum win a state that has borders Minnesota, one of his earlier wins? If Romney wins here, it's another sign that the race is drawing to a close.

Ohio- Of all the states to vote on Tuesday, this is by far considered the most "Super" in terms of candidate attention and money. It will be the marquee contest that the media focuses on Primary Night, both because of the number of delegates at stake and the significance of Ohio as a key general election battleground.

Recent polls had Santorum well ahead here, in a state that has much in common with his own Pennsylvania. A Romney delegate, Mike DeWine, the state's Attorney General and former U.S. Senator, publicly defected and switched to Santorum, in what had been considered a major embarrassment to Romney, but as the campaign has progressed, and in the wake of last Tuesday's results, the race now appears to be extremely close between Santorum and Romney.

Romney can survive a loss in Ohio at the present. Santorum probably cannot, and thus, if Romney does take Ohio, it might be the coup de grace for this nomination. As it is, Romney will likely take most of the state's delegates, because there are several Congressional districts where Santorum was unable to field a full slate.

Oklahoma- this conservative state is expected to be Santorum's strongest on Tuesday, as polls still show him with a double digit lead, but I would not be surprised to see it narrow down considerably, especially if Gingrich rises to the expense of Santorum. If Romney finishes a strong second, it should still be seen as a positive result for him.

Tennessee- another conservative and culturally conservative state that would have looked like strong territory for Gingrich not long ago, but then saw Santorum gain momentum. Polls show the former Pennsylvania Senator may be ahead, but momentum is probably with Romney, and some recent multi-candidate primary fields in the state for Governor and U.S. Senate have gone for the more "moderate" and "establishment" choice. One of those people is current Governor Bill Haslam, who is backing Romney. This could be a very close three way race.

Vermont- perhaps the least culturally conservative state in the country, the Green Mountain State does border Massachusetts and should take it solidly.

Virginia- Mitt Romney will win this southern state, which would be an important key to 270 Electoral Votes in November. For one, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum failed to make the ballot in the state where they live. So, unlike Romney in Massachusetts, they will be unable to vote for themselves to be President of the United States. They are probably left with little choice but to cast a futile ballot for Ron Paul.

After having gone four for four now in this week that is concluding, I think Romney is going to win at least four out of 10 in next week's Super Tuesday, and perhaps even more. To put it mildly, I am pleased with that prospect.

Barack Obama has been quite brash in the past couple of weeks, saying he has five more years in office as if it were a fait accompli. To be sure, the incumbent President will be difficult to defeat, but my beloved Grand Old Party appears on the road to sanity in regards to rejecting unelectable alternatives, and we may soon be at an Obama vs. Romney long general election contest, just as I have long anticipated.

Give the current edge if you must to Obama, but general election polls show that race would very much be up in the air, nationally, and in the battleground states.

Despite everything he has had thrown at him, and including his own campaign missteps, Mitt Romney is as strong of a position against an incumbent President than any challenger may have ever been in March of an election year.