No white knight, no dark horse likely to oust Romney

Thu, Mar 22, 2012, 00:00

THE END of the Republicans’ long nomination process could be in sight, following Mitt Romney’s decisive win in the Illinois primary on Tuesday night.

Conservative pundits said Romney’s 12-point lead over Rick Santorum, at 47 to 35 per cent, all but ended the race.

“Mitt Romney is close to finishing off his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, talk of a brokered GOP convention in August, and the prospect of a new candidate suddenly entering the contest,” said Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard.

“Conservatives may not really like Mitt Romney, but they do not want a fractured party too divided to beat Barack Obama,” wrote Erick Erickson of Redstate.com. “There will be no white knight, no dark horse, and no brokered convention. We have our nominee.”

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush was a possible “white knight”. Bush gave Romney his much coveted endorsement yesterday, in the wake of the Illinois victory.

Former president George HW Bush endorsed Romney in December, but his son remained neutral while Romney campaigned in Florida, winning that primary on January 31st. “Primary elections have been held in 34 states , and now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall,” Bush said.

Illinois is the third big industrial state that Romney has won, after Michigan and Ohio, which he took with much smaller margins. In his victory speech in Schaumburg, Illinois, Romney focused on President Obama: “After the years of too many apologies and not enough jobs . . . it’s time to say, ‘Enough!’” Romney said he has “lived and breathed jobs, business and the economy” for 25 years.

“Each step of the way, I learned a little more about what it is that makes our American system so powerful,” he continued. “You can’t learn that teaching constitutional law [as Obama did]. You can’t learn that as a community organiser [another former Obama occupation]. The simple truth is, this president doesn’t understand the genius of the American economy. When we replace a law professor with a conservative businessman as president, that’s going to end.”

Santorum’s spokesman Hogan Gidley downplayed speculation that the Republican race is almost over on CNN. Louisiana, which will hold its primary on Saturday, will be “the halfway point”, Gidley said. “We’re prepared to go the distance . . . We’ve stretched out our campaign that way. We’ve got a very low burn rate. We’re prepared to go on into the other states.”

Santorum on Tuesday night urged his supporters to “saddle up like Reagan did in the cowboy movies . . . We’re going to pick up a whole boatload of delegates and close this gap and on to victory . . . We’re feeling very, very good about winning Louisiana.”

Like Santorum, Louisiana is deeply conservative and strongly Catholic.

Santorum criticised Romney, saying: “We don’t need a manager. We need somebody who’s going to pull up government by the roots and throw it out . . .”

Romney must win 46 per cent of the remaining delegates in order to take the nomination, while Santorum would have to win 69 per cent of remaining delegates, according to Bloomberg News.

Romney and his political action committee spent more than $3 million to broadcast close to 4,000 television advertisements in Illinois. Ninety-one per cent of the spots were attack ads against Santorum, whose campaign spent $167,090 on advertising in Illinois.

Results in Illinois followed the same pattern as earlier primaries. Romney won affluent, educated voters in Chicago and the surrounding area. Santorum won poor, evangelical Christian, Tea Party and rural voters to the south and west of the state.

Impatience is becoming a factor in the Republican campaign. Among the one-third of voters who told exit polls they want the process to end now, Romney beat Santorum by 20 points.

Santorum’s supporters tend to be more motivated than Romney’s, but the Illinois exit polls showed as many of his voters had reservations as felt strongly about him – 15 per cent in both categories.

The Romney campaign yesterday released a saccharine web video titled “The Love Story Continues” to mark Mitt and Ann Romney’s 43rd wedding anniversary. “I was very careful about not letting him know how I felt about him [when they were teenagers],” Mrs Romney recounts. “I think that drove him crazy.” Romney makes desperate attempts to appear more human, but the video is narrated entirely by Mrs Romney.

When Romney celebrated his 65th birthday on March 12th, an aide said he would keep his private medical insurance. The liberal group Americans United For Change published an advertisement with a picture of Romney, whose fortune is estimated at $250 million, slicing his birthday cake. “Eligible for Medicare today,” it says. “Doesn’t need his; can’t wait to take away yours.”

Votes aren’t the only thing not adding up for Newt Gingrich’s struggling presidential bid, who finished fourth in the Illinois primary. His campaign is officially in the red. At the end of February, the campaign had only $1.5 million in cash on hand while its debts totalled $1.6 million, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday.

And yet, his team has vowed to plough on, all the way to the Republican National Convention in August. “We’re preparing a campaign plan that looks to the future regardless of what the financial circumstances are and it’s a plan to go to Tampa,” said senior Gingrich adviser Bob Walker. “The fundraising is not going to be a crucial element . . . We’ve run lean campaigns in the past and we’re certainly capable of running a lean campaign again.”