Posted: Monday, March 5, 2012 7:00 pm
By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON — Polls show that the two Republican frontrunners, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, would be competitive against President Obama in a head-to-head race, foreshadowing a hotly fought campaign ahead. The circus quality to the GOP primaries has disabused most Republicans of the idea that their candidate will cruise to victory because of high unemployment and a weak economy. The economy is improving, which makes the GOP case against Obama harder to make.
Most analysts think Romney would be the stronger challenger because he would appeal more to Independents, and because the race presumably wouldn’t get sidetracked over crazy statements.
Santorum’s rant against college as catering to snobs, and his assertion that reading John F. Kennedy’s speech about the separation of church and state “made me want to throw up” damaged Santorum’s credibility among the broader public as someone who could win nationwide.
Yet Romney has made his own equally combustible statements, which show him as out of touch with the lives that most Americans lead. There was his casual offer of a $10,000 bet; his admission that his wife, Ann, drives a couple of Cadillac’s; his revelation that he made some money, “not very much,” from speaking fees, when the sum was $374,000.
Republican strategists want to make the fall election all about Obama, and they’re counting on Romney, a buttoned-up former CEO, to make sure the spotlight stays on the president. But the Obama campaign team will work hard to shift the spotlight to Romney, his vision for the future, and how his economic plan would benefit people like him instead of working class Americans. If the Obama team has its way, Romney will not be able to break free from his party and their conservative agenda on social issues.
Most Democrats are reconciled to a dog fight that Obama can win but not by anywhere near the 53 percent and 300-plus electoral votes that carried him into office in 2008. Romney is no Goldwater, they say, recalling the blow-out suffered by conservative icon Barry Goldwater at the hands of Lyndon Johnson in 1964. “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” Goldwater had declared. A nation in the grip of the Cold War with Soviet missiles pointed at U.S. cities was in no mood to take a risk with who they put in the Oval Office.
Defeating an incumbent president is not easy, and the widespread assumption is that Romney, if he didn’t win, would lose narrowly. If that turns out to be the case, conservatives would surely declare that if only they had nominated a full-throated conservative, the outcome would have been different.
But given Romney’s shaky start and the damage he has suffered at the hands of his fellow Republicans, the case can be made that he could lose big in November. After all, Obama has hardly begun to fight. He hasn’t had to spend any money yet, and he’ll have plenty at his disposal come September. Romney is spending more than he anticipated on a long and grinding primary fight, and there is speculation that he may have to open up his own wallet and dig into his private wealth to ensure his competitiveness, something he has been loath to do.
Republicans are disappointed in Romney, or they wouldn’t still be looking for an alternative. His support among Independents has plummeted, and there are no Democrats for Romney groups sprouting up. By the time Romney gets to Tampa for the Convention, he could be well behind Obama in the polls and looking for a running mate to boost his chances. That’s how John McCain ended up with Sarah Palin, a cautionary tale for Romney. Published in The Messenger 3.5.12