Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mitt Romney and the Road to Tampa

Super Tuesday has come and gone.  All four of the GOP contenders are still in the race and not much seems to have changed apart from the candidates delegate counts.  Four years ago Super Tuesday was in February and the Republican nominating process was officially all but over.  What a difference four years makes.  But why are things so different this year?  A few reasons are evident...

  1. The Republican National Committee modified the delegate allocation process for 2012.  In 2008, many more states were 'winner take all' states, which means that the winner of the popular vote took home the lion's share of the delegates.  All states voting before April 1, 2012 are required to allocate some delegates proportionally UNLESS a candidate passes the 50% mark.  This year, all but Arizona and Florida have had some kind of proportional allocation of their delegates, which allows any candidate meeting the state established threshold minimum percentage of the popular vote to get a few delegates.  For a full explanation see Josh Putnam's excellent site.  Seth Masket also has an excellent analysis showing that Romney would be in roughly the same position McCain was in at this point in 2008 if the rules were the same this year.
  2. Fewer states have voted so far in 2012 than voted on Super Tuesday in 2008.  At first glance one might be tempted to say 'so what'?  So everything!  The spacing in the primary/caucus calendar for 2012 has allowed Romney's challengers to regroup after a defeat in one state and make their case in other states.  Additionally, the geographic distribution of the primary/caucus states in 2012 has itself contributed to a long, drawn-out race.  One week the contests are held in areas where Romney is either dominant (Arizona) or competitive (Michigan) while the next few contests are in areas that his opponents are stronger (Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma).  To expect Gov. Romney to deliver a 'knockout blow' under these circumstances is downright silly.  In fact, the next set of caucus/primary states should favor Rick Santorum (Alabama, Mississippi, and Kansas) as Larry Sabato and others have argued.  Had the calendar looked more like 2008 there is every possibility Romney would have wrapped this up and the GOP would be resting comfortably until Tampa.  
  3. Mitt Romney simply isn't that good of a candidate.  Half of Republican voters don't trust him for one of two reasons; 1) either he isn't sufficiently conservative or; 2) they're uneasy with his Mormon faith.  The latter of these two is probably more true among southern evangelicals than anywhere else in the country.  The former explains his mediocre performance among those who self-identify as 'somewhat conservative.'  I'd love to see some cross tabs of the exit polls in each state to measure the overlap between 'extremely conservative' and 'born again/evangelical' but so far I haven't found any.  Add to that Mitt's failure to connect with average folks as I wrote about here and here and you've got a candidate who will likely be limping all the way to Tampa.  
  4. Citizens United and the birth of the Super PACs.  Conservatives have absolutely no grounds for complaining about this causing the nominating process to drag on for months and months because they gave birth to these monsters.  They have wanted unlimited spending for decades and they've got it.  I'm sure they envisioned using it to destroy Democrats rather than to have these things cannibalize their own but sometimes when you create a monster you lose control of it.  Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.  Virtually any objective analysis will show that neither Newt Gingrich nor Rick Santorum would be posting serious challenges to Mitt Romney right now, in spite of the above, if they had to rely on the traditional method to secure a presidential nomination.  Neither of them have 'real' campaign organizations, neither has much financial support, and neither has a coherent, consistent, electable message.  In an age where all that is needed to run for president is a billionaire willing to contribute a million bucks (or twenty million) to your 'unaffiliated' Super PAC who needs an organization?
For all these reasons and more, I think the media (and citizens) are asking the wrong questions.  The question is not why has not Governor Romney wrapped up the nomination (he has...we just don't know it yet).  The question is why in the world would we have expected it to be over so soon?

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