Saturday, March 24, 2012

Race for the White House

Out of all the things I have observed and participated in regarding politics, one thing I really never expected was to personally witness a victory speech for a Puerto Rican election.

That is exactly what I got to experience though last Sunday evening in Vernon Hills, Illinois as I had a great seat in a packed gymnasium to see Mitt and Ann Romney declare victory in Puerto Rico and thank supporters there. After that, Governor Romney proceeded to take questions from the audience and it was an extremely enthusiastic Town Hall event. Before they met with all of us, the Romneys took some time outside to offer remarks to the approximately 300 people in an overflow crowd who were not let in by the fire marshall.

When the questions were done, I managed to get a quick handshake along the ropeline with the man himself, as sweaty Secret Service Agents rushed to take control of the crowd. In the parking lot, I caught a brief glimpse of the candidate in his motorcade drive out right in front of us. All in all, it was a pretty exciting evening and it was a thrill to see the Mittster, the candidate I have proudly twice supported for President in person. Since Illinois is unlikely to be a battleground state in the fall (despite the personal pleas of a couple audience members Sunday night), this was probably the only real chance I will ever have to see and shake hands with the person who I believe is bound to become the President of the United States, and a great one at that.

Romney received upwards of 80 percent of the vote Sunday in Puerto Rico, taking all of its delegates. He had been expected to win, but the margin was shattering. One has to wonder why Rick Santorum even bothered to spend two days campaigning in Puerto Rico (where his rhetoric would get him in political hot water), at the expense of trying to target some areas in Illinois where he could have done better.

Needless to say I was feeling very confident about my home state on Tuesday, and Mitt Romney won it by 12 points over Santorum, taking all but a handful of delegates. It was very gratifying to me to have been able to take part in such an important part of the Presidential battle, and one that so many feel was decisive in cementing the reality that Romney is all but certain to be the nominee now. He did extremely well among my fellow suburban Chicago Republicans and when the history of this campaign was written, we can maybe claim that we had much to do with a successful effort.

In the years to come, I probably will regret passing on a chance to go see Romney declare victory in person once again, as his Illinois party took place in somewhat nearby Schaumburg. I had a pretty busy and stressful week (and especially that day) at work though so I did not go. I wish now that I would have, but at least I was there for the Puerto Rico win!

With the victory in Illinois, which saw a margin that exceeded the expectations of many, Romney is an even more in control front runner nationally, in terms of polling and the all important delegate count. Rick Santorum won solidly tonight in Louisiana, which was expected, after Romney choose to not heavily focus on the Bayou. Still though, Romney finished second there and should take some delegates, adding to his lead. Santorum will have the headlines of winning another Deep South state, but few expect it to do much to change the trajectory of the race.

In the past week, Romney received the endorsement of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, whom some had thought of as a potential winner at a now more unlikely "brokered convention" and was also received some helpful words from South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, a noted conservative, who while not formally endorsing said he would be "excited" about a Romney nomination. The former Governor of Massachusetts, who won among Tea Party supporters in Illinois also saw the group Freedom Works offer signs that they were preparing themselves to support him as the GOP nominee.

It was not all smooth sailing the past week for Team Romney though as senior communications advisor Eric Fehrnstrom got in hot water in answering a cable television interviewer's questions about how the campaign might move along in a general election. He likened a general election to the Etch a Sketch toy in which things can be shaken up and started anew. While it seems clear he was talking about political considerations, many others believed it was an indication that Romney would walk away from conservative positions he had staked out once he might become the nominee. The firestorm received much attention, but Romney has resisted whatever temptation might exist to have fired Fehrnstrom for his rhetorical gaffe, which I think is an important indication of the kind of leader he would be.

Obviously, Santorum and Newt Gingrich are in dire need to try to take advantage of anything they can, and they both have produced Etch a Sketches in order to try to shame Romney for his staffer's remark. Santorum went even further by making remarks in which he indicated that since Romney and Barack Obama were according to him not very different, people might be better off sticking with Obama over Romney. It was a tremendously ill advised remark (and Gingrich jumped in to hammer Santorum on it) and Santorum has had to walk it back as much as possible. While it appears to not have hurt the ex Pennsylvania Senator in Louisiana, many conservatives on the blogosphere described it as the final nail in Santorum's Presidential campaign coffin. If he says anything along those lines again, it will definitely be used against him.

On a somewhat side note, I believe Newt Gingrich also said something pretty dumb this week. In answering a question why some conservative voters believe Obama is a Muslim, Gingrich said that Obama himself and his behavior might be responsible for that ignorant falsehood that is held by some voters. First of all, I believe it is quite wrong for someone to make an automatic ad hominem assumption that being a Muslim is a negative thing. That is an incredibly wrong-headed way of thinking. Furthermore, while there is ample material to criticize Obama with in regards to the way he has approached the U.S.-Israel relation as President and many other things that have some ties to issues of Islam, it is completely illogical to make an assumption that any kind of policy position makes him resemble a Muslim. Just another example of the ugliness of Newt Gingrich that has popped up from time to time in this campaign.

Gingrich did have a moment of lucidity this past week when he admitted that neither he, nor Rick Santorum, nor Ron Paul will enter the Tampa convention having clinched enough delegates to have won the nomination. He admitted that either Romney will have formally won enough to clinch the nomination by then, or that there could theoretically be a flood battle at the convention won by one of the active candidates or someone else.

With those remarks, it becomes clear that Gingrich and Santorum are both basically just staying in the race, not because they think they any longer win the nomination in a traditional way, but because they think it is their duty to "stop Romney", by whatever means necessary. (For his part, Ron Paul is believed to be prepared to cut a deal with Romney for something when the time comes.) As time goes by though, the pressure for Gingrich and Santorum to "stand down" for the good of the party will continue to grow louder.

After Louisiana today, the March contests are now open. The next contests will occur in 10 days as Romney will cruise to an easy victory in the District of Columbia (where Santorum did not make the ballot) and is believed to be a solid favorite in Maryland. The most attention that day will fall on Wisconsin, a Midwestern state that Santorum is believed to be targeting, but one where a Rasmussen Reports poll this week showed Romney up by 13 points. If Romney sweeps the first primary day of April, even more people will consider it time to call a wrap on the nomination process.

Let me offer best wishes to Vice President Dick Cheney who had a new ticker put in place today. Hopefully, it will allow him to be around and vocal on the national and world stage for many years to come.