The Horserace for March 2, 2012
The reality is I think conservative activists are starting to come to terms with Mitt Romney. His national and state polling is starting to trend up. More and more I hear conservative activists tell me that while they are not sold on Romney and he has not closed the deal, Gingrich and Santorum have not closed the deal either. The great volume of undecided voters who still decide to participate typically will go with the frontrunner and right now that is Mitt Romney.Santorum and Gingrich have the opportunity to change the reality in the next week, but it is their last major opportunity. Right now, it all comes down to Ohio — a must win state for the three.Today, in a pre-Super Tuesday horserace, let’s explore where we are headed.
Newt Gingrich will win Georgia. It is not a question of if, but by how much. Mitt Romney will come in third. But Georgia is shaping up to be Gingrich’s only win on Super Tuesday. Rick Santorum is probably going to take Tennessee and Oklahoma, though Gingrich will probably come in second in Oklahoma.Those would be bad headlines for Mitt Romney, except he just might take Vermont, Massachusetts, and will take Virginia. That Ron Paul has not tried to consolidate anti-Romney voters in Virginia suggests to me he is now more spoiler than candidate. The Paul strategy has not turned out as planned and he will not be the nominee.Santorum needs Ohio. Denying Romney Ohio would be a psychological boost for Santorum’s candidacy and help Santorum against Gingrich headed into the week after Super Tuesday when Mississippi and Alabama are up for grabs — states Romney probably will not win.And yes, the word “probably” is intentional in all these scenarios because the race remains that fluid.The Romney campaign has discovered if it concentrates its resources in particular states and drives up their spending ratio to 5 to 1, they will win. It is a strategy that will not work in the general election, but is working effectively for him now, though driving up his negatives.Santorum and Gingrich will have a hard time matching Romney in Ohio, though Santorum continues to resonate with blue collar workers. His message, however, needs to change. He spent several weeks talking about social issues and not talking about jobs, which is the key topic. Following jobs and the economy, government spending is a top concern of voters.Santorum has pivoted to talking about that topic, which suggests he gets why he underperformed in Michigan.The Romney campaign, however, is still in the driver’s seat. Both with money and rising national polling, Santorum and Gingrich both in the race are starting to keep consolidation from happening against Mitt Romney and, consequently, voters are starting to get desperate and are starting to consolidate for Romney.Republican leaders should be worried, though, that in a Republican primary the front runner is still having this much difficulty in Republican states winning Republican voters. Mitt Romney may be the first Republican nominee in a very long time to win the nomination while losing the South. That signals trouble for him in the general election as he spends time rallying the base to him when he needs to rally independents who are right now turning on him.The Romney campaign may gamble that the base will vote for him in November. They’re probably right. But will they go door to door, talk positively about him, defend him, and give him money? That’s more difficult to answer.