Advancing a Free Society

The M-Phatic Rules of the Republican Race

Thursday, March 8, 2012

There are three ways to look at the Republican presidential race moving forward – all three having to do with the “m’s” of winning a party’s nomination: message, momentum and math.

There’s a fourth “m” – money – but that’s another story for another day.

Let’s quickly review the three nonfinancial “m’s” as they apply to Mitt Romney.

  1. Message. Throughout the campaign season, Romney has chosen to stick to economics and President Obama. He rarely ventures into social issues and has avoided opportunities to define himself, much less a grand vision for a GOP looking for the next Reagan. The result? Romney runs well among voters who see him as the strongest opponent for Obama. However, it’s not as large a piece of the pie as he’d like. On Tuesday, in Ohio, only 42% of GOP voters said defeating Obama was the most important quality in a candidate; Romney carried just 52% of that portion of the electorate. The bigger problem, as Ohio’s results underscored: Romney’s on the short side of an empathy gap, with just 22% of Ohio Republicans saying the former Massachusetts governor best understands the concerns of average Americans (vs. 34% for Rick Santorum). Two other concerns coming out of Ohio: Romney’s advantage among women wasn’t as strong as suspected (he won big among single women; he lost the married women’s vote to Santorum); Santorum carried all age groups, save the over-65 set. All of which suggests the need for a restyled Romney: more interaction with voters, more humanization of the candidate, more getting into the high weeds of middle-class America.
  2. Momentum. Welcome to Bizarro World, Republican style, where a candidate can win six out of ten elections on a given night in March, can claim 14 of 22 races over the past three months, hold more than double the number of delegates to those of his nearest opponent, yet still face questions of doubt and underperformance. Romney’s bad luck is March doesn’t go out like a lamb – for the couple of weeks, the primary schedule works against him. Kansas is this weekend’s big prize; apparently, Romney’s not interested (son Matt, not Mitt, is visiting Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, both of which vote the same day as Kansas). On March 10, the road to Tampa runs through Alabama and Mississippi – a showdown between Santorum and Newt Gingrich. On March 17, it’s on to Missouri – presumably, a good state for Santorum. That takes us to March 20 and Illinois. It’s a familiar plotline. As in Michigan, Romney has the backing of the state’s political establishment; as in Ohio, Santorum will work the rural parts of the states (Santorum won 69 of Ohio’s 88 counties, including every county in the southeastern corner of the states). What Romney needs is something more definitive than the 12,000-vote squeaker in Ohio.
  3. Math. You wouldn’t know this was a hotly contested race, simply by looking at the delegate count. The Wall Street Journal has it as:
  • Romney 419
  • Santorum 178
  • Gingrich 107
  • Paul 47

This means Romney is about three-eighths of the way to the 1,114 delegates needed for the nomination. With about 1,550 delegates still undecided, Romney needs half of that sum to seal the deal. Santorum and Gingrich would need two-thirds or more, which is seemingly impossible given that the two combined have less than 40% of the delegates so far.

So how does Romney boost his delegate count? 182 delegates are available in a pool of five winner-take-all states (Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Utah and Wisconsin). Add to that the District and Columbia and its 19 delegates (Santorum’s not on the ballot). Two big states with a combined 250 delegates – New York and Texas – are proportional. Two other big states that vote on June 5 – California and New Jersey – allot 195 of their 222 delegates by congressional district (three delegates per district winner). Add also Illinois and its 69 delegates – 54 chosen by congressional district, with Santorum having failed to qualify in four districts.

The good news for Romney: slow and steady can win the race, especially since Santorum isn’t as well organized on the delegate front. With about 850 delegates already chosen, Romney’s captured roughly half of that number (here’s a chart showing the candidates’ number – note the % of delegates vs. % of vote). If Romney keeps up that pace, eventually he’ll get to 1,144.

But not anytime soon, though (a warm thought for oft-overlooked California Republicans)

And not without further drama.