It’s not the economy, stupid

It’s not the economy, stupid

Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012 7:00 pm

By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON — In 1992, candidate Bill Clinton ran on the theme, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Today, candidate Mitt Romney is running on the same theme, but when Tuesday’s as primary results came in, it appeared that theme had sailed.
The evening was billed as Rick Santorum’s last stand, with analysts predicting that if the former senator failed to win somewhere, he would be forced to exit the race. Well, Santorum showed them — sweeping all three contests in the Midwest and West, and reinforcing doubts about Mitt Romney’s capacity to take back the White House for the GOP.
Romney’s people were all over the media explaining that no delegates were at stake in the contested states of Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado. They are looking ahead to later this month when a significant number of delegates will be awarded in primary elections in Arizona and Romney’s home state of Michigan. Romney graciously called and extended his congratulations to Santorum, yet emphasized in his public remarks that nothing had changed, that he still expected to be his party’s nominee.
Romney is probably correct in that assessment, but the continuing resistance of the GOP’s conservative core to accept him as their nominee spells trouble ahead, not only in the remaining primary contests, but in November. Romney has staked his entire campaign on the notion that the country will be looking for an alternative CEO to steer the ship of state in troubled economic times, and that the cultural issues that have driven Republican voters in every election since Ronald Reagan won the White House in 1980, are largely passé.
That may still be the case for much of the electorate, but for Republican primary voters, uneasy with Romney’s brand of pragmatic conservatism, an improving economy may be the green light they are looking for to vote their hearts. Santorum is a warrior when it comes to social and cultural issues. The father of seven, including a severely handicapped daughter, he has argued on the campaign trail that states have the right under the Constitution to ban contraceptives. When asked about Santorum’s view at a New Hampshire debate last month, Romney declared, “Contraception, it’s working just fine. Leave it alone.”
Santorum is capitalizing on Romney’s comment that he doesn’t worry about the poor, because they have a safety net, or about the very rich, because they’re doing just fine, a remark that offended just about everybody. Santorum says he worries about everyone, and as the grandson of a coal miner, he is better positioned to convey to a broad swath of voters that he can identify with their lives.
Trying to put the best face on his losses in three critical swing states, Romney talked about the hardships his father, George Romney, endured on his way to become a pioneering executive in the automobile business and to build the family fortune. It’s an inspirational story and one that Romney should tell more often, but for voters looking for assurance on social issues, it’s not enough to describe the family’s climb up the economic ladder.
Romney is paying the price for a campaign focused solely on his ability to manage the economy, and while he is still likely to triumph in the end, Santorum’s win on Tuesday is the latest repudiation conservative Republicans have dealt to Romney on his road to the nomination. While no delegates were at stake, and turnout was very low, it’s hard to argue that these losses are making Romney stronger. John McCain, the GOP nominee four years ago, lost 19 contests on his way to the nomination. He also lost the general election.
Romney has the campaign operation and financial resources to carry the fight until the last delegate is chosen in June. But if the stock market continues to rise and unemployment continues to fall, he may have to rethink his candidacy to find a more compelling vision to offer voters. Published in The Messenger 2.13.12

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