Monday, February 13, 2012

Romney and Inevitability by Any Other Name

A Guest Column by Mark Snyder:

After his decisive victory in Florida Mitt Romney looked all but assured to sail through the rest of the
contests and to the nomination, mostly due to Rick Santorum’s persisting inability to raise money
and organize volunteers and Newt Gingrich’s rapidly declining favorability numbers. He had shaken off the rebuke of South Carolina voters in Florida and ended up winning almost every major demographic group, winning the primary 46% of the vote and leading his next closest competitor, Gingrich, by 14 points.

Romney then went on the win Nevada with a full 50% of the vote, leaving Gingrich 29 points behind him. Even though Nevada was a state Romney was all but assured to win, the inevitability narrative seemed to be building. The month of February was not going to be a kind one to Gingrich, and Santorum still was not making enough money or building enough of a ground game to be taken seriously.

With Santorums sweep of Colorado, Minnesota, and the beauty contest in Missouri the inevitability narrative once again comes into some doubt.

Nate Silver opined after Romney’s win in Florida (and it looked even more true after his Nevada win) that there were a number of ways forward, but can be boiled down to four: the contest ends early and Romney
wins, the battle stretches on but Romney pulls it off, Santorum emerges as the anti-Romney that the media has been saying the Republican base is looking for, or the contest stretches on all the way to a brokered convention.

The first two looked like the likely scenarios, but now with Romney’s upset earlier this week are the latter too looking like better bets?

The answer, in my mind, is no. For several reasons.

First, Romney still holds a huge money lead. According to the latest FEC filing Romney has raised over $57 million, more than the rest of his competitors combined. Not only does this mean Romney will be able to control the airwaves if his campaign so chooses, but he will be able to go to the convention with just the money he has on hand at the moment, which differentiates him from his competitors. The super PAC
supporting Romney, Restore our Future, is also sitting high above the water financially, and showed its willingness to get involved aggressively on behalf of Romney in Iowa. The super PAC has also recently made a media buy in Ohio, a state seen as key for all of the contenders.

Second, though Romney’s favorability ratings have recently taken a hit he is not alone, as mentioned before Gingrich’s has as well, and now increased scrutiny of Santorum’s record and personal statements are
starting to have a negative effect on his ratings. Romney, though not seen as a good candidate by those who consider themselves very conservative, has maintained strong support from moderate Republicans and Independents in exit polls in the first four contests.

Finally the anyone but Romney contingent, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul, face serious questions about how electable they actually are; all three trail Pres. Obama in Gallup surveys, while Romney is running even with him nationally, and beating him in many swing states. In Iowa, New Hampshire, and Florida voters who thought that the ability to defeat Obama is the most important characteristic in a candidate overwhelmingly supported Romney. The exception was in South Carolina, where they support Gingrich 51%/37%, which can be attributed to the mini-implosion of the Romney campaign, marked by their handling of attack on Romney’s time at Bain Capital, his refusal to release his tax records, and his subjugation by Gingrich during the debates.

Looking forward Romney should be able to prove his inevitability with wins in Michigan and Arizona, but look for Gingrich and Santorum to stay long past those primaries. Due to the way the RNC fashioned
the primary season it is impossible for any one candidate to win enough delegates to become the nominee this early, however if Romney can cement his front runner status and make it stick this time, look for him to suck all of the oxygen out of the room, leaving Santorum and Gingrich languishing with dwindling funds and even dimmer prospects.

Romney’s relatively weak finish in Maine, along with the incredible low turnout, only bolsters the importance of the Michigan and Arizona primaries in the coming weeks. The current polling number suggest an interesting scenario: Romney could win Arizona by a large margin (50% to Gingrich’s 26% and Santorum’s 14%) and lose Michigan to Santorum (40% to Romney’s 27%, and Gingrich with 18%) With polling numbers in those states few and far between the current numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.

The Michigan and Arizona primaries are February 28th.

Mark Snyder is a Senior Political Science major at St. Mary's College.