Romney winning in maths but failing in chemistry

Thu, Mar 8, 2012, 00:00

The candidate’s successes are starting to add up, but he has failed to win over many Republicans

THE EXTENT of Mitt Romney’s success on Super Tuesday did not become apparent until yesterday, because the cliffhanger Ohio contest was not called until after midnight, and Romney’s win in Alaska was not reported until early the following morning.

“I feel pretty darn good,” Romney told CNBC yesterday.

“We had a very strong response across the country, everywhere from Alaska to Vermont.”

Romney won six of 10 states that held primaries or caucuses: Massachusetts, where he was governor; neighbouring Vermont; Virginia; Idaho, which has a strong Mormon population; Alaska; and Ohio.

Romney is also ahead in the Wyoming caucuses that began on Tuesday and will end on Saturday. He faces difficulties in Alabama and Mississippi next week, but should do well in the next major primary, in Illinois on March 20th.

Romney’s chief rival, Rick Santorum, won the strongly evangelical states of Oklahoma and Tennessee, as well as North Dakota, which Romney had won in 2008.

As expected, Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia, and announced his intention to stage a third comeback in Alabama, Mississippi and Kansas.

Super Tuesday did not deliver a knock-out blow to any of Romney’s opponents, and it highlighted his vulnerability among certain segments of the Republican electorate. But it strengthened the sense of inevitability about his nomination.

Romney yesterday acknowledged that he might not secure the required 1,144 delegates before the Republican convention in Tampa at the end of August, but excluded the possibility of an outside candidate stealing the nomination at the convention. Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin told CNN this week that she would attend the convention and had not “closed the door” to becoming the nominee.

“We’ve got the time and the resources and a plan to get all the delegates, and we think that’ll get done before the convention,” Romney told CNBC. “But one thing I can tell you for sure: There’s not going to be a brokered convention, where some new person comes in and becomes the nominee. It’s going to be one of the four people that are still running.”

Delegates must vote for their designated candidate in the first round at the convention, but are free to vote as they wish in subsequent ballots. Ron Paul, who has not won a single state, has amassed dozens of delegates and is the only candidate on friendly terms with Romney.

Post Super Tuesday commentary focused on what Romney’s political director, Rich Beeson, called “the basic principles of math” – which he accused Romney’s opponents of ignoring.

“To date, Governor Romney has won more than 50 per cent of all delegates awarded and now holds nearly 40 per cent of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination,” Beeson wrote in a memo yesterday.

“Governor Romney now has more than twice as many delegates as Senator Santorum and four times more than Speaker Gingrich . . . Super Tuesday (and its 437 delegates) was a one-time opportunity for Governor Romney’s opponents to diminish his delegate lead and claim any kind of ‘comeback’.

“They failed, and the calendar now only offers incremental opportunities to make headway.”

But as Julie Hirschfeld Davis of Bloomberg News noted: “Mitt Romney is winning in math and losing in chemistry.”

The frontrunner again failed to deliver a rousing victory speech on Tuesday night. His dull stump speech rehashes grievances against US president Barack Obama but does not offer a strong, coherent and positive message. Exit polls in Ohio showed Romney had made only small inroads into Santorum’s evangelical Christian, rural and working-class electorate.

Forty-six per cent of voters in Ohio identified themselves as born-again Christians – 46 per cent of them voted for Santorum, and only 30 per cent for Romney.

Santorum also won half of the one-third of Ohio voters who described themselves as “very conservative”. By contrast, Romney won more than 50 per cent of the over-65s.

Wealthy Republicans appear to have saved him in both Michigan and Ohio by turning out in much greater numbers than they did four years ago. In both states, the percentage of voters who said they earned more than $100,000 (€76,000) annually rose by some 50 per cent this year. Romney defeated Santorum by 3 per cent in Michigan and 1 per cent in Ohio, and it is likely that he would have lost without the support of the rich.

The Republican primaries have been a real turn-off for young voters. Only 5 per cent of eligible voters under the age of 30 voted on Super Tuesday, according to the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Super Tuesday solidified Santorum’s status as the conservative anti-Romney. Republican voters split on the ideology/electability factor, with Santorum’s voters telling exit polls they wanted a “true conservative” or someone with a strong moral character. Romney’s voters said they wanted someone who could defeat Obama.

Romney’s “chemistry” problem with conservative voters is slowing his obtention of the nomination, but he is counting on the fact that ultimately they will vote for whoever is the Republican nominee.

Some question whether Romney could win a one-on-one contest against a more conservative Republican. Ron Paul’s 41 per cent score in Virginia – where neither Santorum nor Gingrich qualified for the ballot – was interpreted as a protest vote against Romney.

Gingrich told Bill Bennett’s Morning in America radio programme yesterday that Santorum would not defeat Romney in a two-man race.

“If I had lost last night in Georgia, I’d have gotten out of the race this morning,” Gingrich said.

“But I’d also point out that Santorum lost his Senate seat [in 2006] by the largest margin in the history of Pennsylvania. If I thought he was a slam dunk to beat Romney and to beat Obama, I would really consider getting out. I don’t.”