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Red State, Blue State, Mitt State, Newt State

How has the popular vote differed in the 2012 GOP primary if you break out the states by their track record in recent presidential elections? It turns out that there are some distinct patterns, patterns that provide both good and bad news for a GOP contemplating a general election behind Mitt Romney.

Let’s start with the 13 “Red” states (i.e., the states won by the GOP in the last 3 presidential elections) to vote so far: SC, MO, AZ, WY, AK, GA, ID, ND, OK, TN, KS, AL & MS. Here’s how the vote breaks down, out of 4,052,212 votes cast:

Newt 30.4% (2 wins)
Romney 30.2% (4 wins)
Santorum 29.1% (7 wins)
Paul 8.5%

If we combine the votes for the 5 conservative and two moderate candidates as explained here*, we get the following:

Conservative bloc: 60.3%
Moderate bloc: 30.4%

Unsurprisingly, Romney has struggled in solidly Republican states, where the conservative vote has outpolled him 2-to-1, but the division in that vote means that he, Newt and Santorum have run almost in a 3-way heat, with Newt actually narrrowly in the lead (Santorum will probably close the gap on Saturday). The good news is, unless the Romney campaign really collapses, he’s likely to win most of these states against Obama anyway. The bad news is, there are a lot of down-ticket GOP officeholders who could suffer if Romney isn’t able to energize voters in these states.

Then we have the 8 Blue states (states won by the Democrats the past 3 elections) to vote so far: MN, ME, MI, WA, MA, VT, HI, & IL, in which 2,460,097 votes have been cast. Unsurprisingly, these states present a diametrically opposite picture:

Romney 47.3% (7 wins)
Santorum 32.4% (1 win)
Paul 11.5%
Newt 7.0%

Moderate bloc: 47.5%
Conservative bloc: 39.9%

Romney’s run much closer to a majority with voters in blue territory, who are accustomed to making a lot of compromises in search of electable candidates; Ron Paul has also run a lot stronger in these states, while Newt has been a complete non-factor with GOP electorates that tend to be mistrustful of the role of Southerners in the party’s leadership. That doesn’t mean there’s no market for conservatives, as the Pennsylvanian Santorum has actually done better in blue states than red ones.

Then there’s the 7 Purple or Swing states, each won by each party at least once in the last 3 elections. Excluding Virginia, which skews the sample because the conservatives were not even on the ballot, that leaves IA, NH, FL, NV, CO, & OH, in which 3,345,072 votes have been cast:

Romney 41.8% (4 wins)
Newt 22.9%
Santorum 22.5% (2 wins)
Paul 9.7%

Conservative bloc: 46.6%
Moderate bloc: 43.5%

These states – most notably Iowa, Florida, and Ohio – have seen some of the most heated campaigning of the race. The bottom line in the swing states may be the same as in the red states (Romney being outvoted by the combined conservative vote, but winning a plurality by the division among his opponents) but he has clearly outdistanced any one of his adversaries, as Newt was largely a non-factor in Iowa, showed poorly in Ohio and was not on the map in New Hampshire, while Santorum ran a distant third in Florida. And the conservative bloc’s lead in these states has been much more modest, with neither commanding a majority of the vote. There’s certainly a plausible argument here that – whether or not he can win over skeptical swing-state swing voters – Romney has at least shown that none of his remaining opponents is a consistent vote-getter in those states. Like most of Romney’s arguments for the nomination, this is more about the weakness of his opponents than his own strengths.

Finally, there’s the vote in the territories (Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands), in which 113,014 votes have been cast:

Romney 87.8% (2 wins)
Santorum 8.5%
Newt 2.2%
Paul 1.4% (1 win)

Not much use breaking these out further; Romney’s campaign steamrolled the other candidates in these jurisdictions, but none of them vote in November. In theory, combined with Romney’s vastly improved showing this year among Florida’s Hispanic primary voters, his overwhelming win in Puerto Rico might seem to indicate that despite Romney’s current hardline immigration rhetoric** he may be on a path to do much better with Hispanic voters than I have feared. On the other hand, nothing in the general election polling would seem to support that view; neither Puerto Rican Republicans nor Cuban-American Florida Republicans seem to be all that representative of Hispanic swing voters in places like Colorado and Nevada.

* – After Saturday’s Louisiana primary, the last state voting in March – or perhaps after the first April votes – I’ll do a more complete update of my running tally of the popular vote in the 2012 primaries, see here and here

** – As opposed to his positions on immigration before 2007, when he supported the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill and a path to legalization, see here, here, here and here and here.

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