If you listen to most political pundits on television or read the columns written by the political columnists in the larger newspapers across the county, you wonder why we even have a nominating process. Just in case you didn’t know, the Republican nomination process is over. Mitt Romney is the nominee, and we are just left to go through the motions.
Nobody can argue with the notion that Romney is a favorite to win the Republican nomination. It just seems odd that these pundits find it necessary to declare Romney the winner after only one contest has been held. If Romney’s vote total in Iowa stands, he will have won the Iowa caucuses by less than ten votes. Shouldn’t the inevitable nominee do better than that? Other inevitable nominees like George W. Bush took 41 percent of the vote and won by ten points in Iowa.
The odds that Romney gets a convincing win in New Hampshire tomorrow are good, but it will be the first time since he began running for president in 2006 that he has met expectations. Yet, will Romney’s New Hampshire victory, no matter how large, really symbolize Romney’s strength? Not really.
Romney won eleven states in the 2008 nomination, but the only significant wins for Romney came in Michigan and Nevada. His father was previously the Governor of Michigan, and Romney spent his childhood there, and the Nevada caucus pitted him against Ron Paul since McCain didn’t campaign there. Romney won some states on Super Tuesday, but it wasn’t enough. The following weekend, he departed from the race.
In 2008, Romney was able to enjoy frontrunner status for a few reasons. – his national campaign organization and his fundraising ability, as well as his personal wealth. Just as it was back then, Romney is considered to be the inevitable nominee in 2012 for the same reasons. Since the media doesn’t see how one of the other Republican candidates can go toe-to-toe with Romney when it comes to an air war, they have conceded that Romney will be the nominee.
It’s easy to understand the logic of the media, but money has played a relatively small role in the 2012 race thus far. Tim Pawlety spent about a million dollars a month and had to drop out of the race the day after finishing a disappointing third at the Ames Straw Poll. Michele Bachmann spent a load of money on that event, too. She made it to the caucuses, but limped across the finish line. Rick Perry saturated the Iowa airwave with television ads all fall and finished in a disappointing fifth place.
On the other hand, million were spent against Newt Gingrich, yet he is still standing. A super PAC associated with Gingrich is about to unleash millions of dollars of ads beating up Mitt Romney is South Carolina. They may cause Romney some damage, but he will still be standing at the end of the day. The 2012 Republican race has shown that money is still important for obvious reasons, but it’s not the end all, be all that the media has made it out to be.
While one could say that the current political environment has made huge campaign war chests less important in the nomination fight, there might be something else afoot. There seems to be a disconnect between the candidate with all the money, Mitt Romney, and Republican voters.
Mitt Romney’s narrow win provides us with the first glimpse of what could be a big problem for Romney moving forward – rural voters. Romney won 17 counties in Iowa compared to Santorum’s 62. In just five of the counties that Romney won, he built a 2,599 margin over Santorum, and yet he won by just 8 votes. That signifies two things. One, there was huge rural verse urban split in the electorate, and two, Romney really only appealed to voters in suburban areas.
It was good enough for Romney to squeak out a tiny victory over Santorum in Iowa, but he will need the support of those rural voters if he does become the nominee. In fact, he may need to reach out to the more conservative voters in rural areas if he wants to win the Republican nomination. As the race moves south after New Hampshire and Romney’s home field advantage is wiped away, what is his plan to engage the conservative base of the Republican Party? Your guess is as good as mine.
Throughout the gauntlet of debates, Romney has been steady but never inspiring. He may look presidential and possess a political war chest, but it’s been his lesser-known opponents who have shown leadership on tax policy, foreign policy, and other conservative issues. It has also been Romney’s Republican opponents who have drawn a distinct contrast between themselves and President Obama, not the establishment frontrunner who the media is ready to anoint.
While some in the media seem eager for this race to be over, it begins in earnest in South Carolina. There is no problem with the approach that Romney’s campaign has taken to trying to win the nomination. However, he would be wise to not neglect the base of the party in the process. Romney’s ability to do well is urban areas is a plus, but he can’t afford to neglect the rural and more conservative parts of the country either.
Romney has a firm hold on the Republican establishment vote, but others like Santorum and Gingrich are fighting for soul of the party. We have heard a number of candidates say that this is the most important election since 1860, but Romney seems content in treating this nomination race like any other contest. The results of the South Carolina primary should tell us whether a clear alternative to Romney is going to emerge and challenge him. If/when that happens, Romney’s path to the Republican nomination is going to get much more difficult.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com
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