With a potentially strong showing tomorrow in the Deep South, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney may make a big move in pushing some of his rivals out of the race. Rasmussen Reports has Romney leading in Mississippi by 8 % points as of Friday March 9. The Alabama race is neck and neck and the latest Real Clear Politics polling average for that state has Romney ahead by only 2.3 points. A photo finish is in the works but according to conventional wisdom, this should be a state that Newt Gingrich should take handily but Newt appears to be running out of gas.
Just from an observer’s standpoint, I believe he appears as a person putting on a happy face but inside he knows his run is over. His Alamo, so to speak, is this week with primaries in Alabama, Mississippi, followed by Missouri this weekend, and if he cannot capitalize on his southern roots then he is finished. If he stays in then it is to spite Rick Santorum and not Governor Romney.
I have to say that I don’t believe if Gingrich gets out of the race that all his votes go to Senator Santorum. I know Santorum thinks this and has said so publicly, but I don’t think that is the case. Almost 70% of Republicans think Romney is going to be the nominee and I don’t think one can assume that all the votes are split evenly between the candidates, so if Gingrich leaves, I think the majority of his support, and that may be a slim majority, but the majority of those votes go to Governor Romney.
It is logical to think that if the majority of Republicans supported both Santorum and Gingrich in greater numbers, then Governor Romney should be in third place when it comes to delegates and yet he has a commanding lead in the delegate count. If he comes in first or second tomorrow, or a combination of both and then performs well in Missouri and Illinois, I don’t see how Santorum can catch him.
It may end up in a week or so that both Speaker Gingrich and Senator Santorum have to decide if they want to give Governor Romney the best chance to win in November, or if they want to spite him so badly that they stay in and give the election to President Obama. The Primary season is good to flesh out a platform, to force candidates to show their strengths and weaknesses and demonstrate why they should move on and others should not. The process thus far, has done so. There have been twenty debates, 22 caucuses or primaries, and Senator Santorum is saying that Governor Romney doesn’t tell the truth, and Speaker Gingrich is sticking to his “Massachusetts Moderate” line, and Governor Romney has more delegates than both of them combined.
Anyone else seeing a pattern here?
The point to this argument is that the South was once considered a conservative bastion. Hard Right social politics was what would win the day along with a strong economic and military message. The South is very independent in its orientation even if the independence leans hard right even when voting Democratic is family history. If Romney is such a moderate and he is fighting a close game in this area, then the South’s political ideology has shifted. Partly due, I think, to a generational shift in ideas and personal beliefs. The South’s social politics have changed over time and if you have never lived there, you wouldn’t understand. People are more centrist socially in their beliefs today and yet still very independent. They like the tough talk (Newt in SC debate for example) and rally to America’s military and her soldiers, and yet, over the past thirty years, independent minded people from the Northeast who got tired of excess government have migrated to this region and their Northeast moderate politics have migrated as a result.
It is this combination that exists in Romney’s campaign rhetoric. He has stated he will Cut, Cap and Balance the budget, shrink the size of government, initiate a 20% tax reduction across the board, and create a military so strong the rest of the world should worry about it. He is strong on illegal immigration and his stance of self-deportation is happening every day in the South in the areas where there isn’t enough work.
Finally, he is a stable, consistent and level-headed alternative to a region that has Obama Fatigue (along with much of the nation) who knows how jobs really are created.
His strong showing should not be a surprise to anyone who knows the South and can judge it objectively.