by Maxford Nelsen
Mitt Romney entered the Republican nomination process as the assumed front-runner and has largely been able to retain that status. Other candidates have risen to challenge his lead, only to quickly burn out.
However, Romney is simply the last resort for a good number of true conservatives. Though he currently leads the nomination process, this is really misleading. For example, just recently Romney barely overcame Santorum in two major state primaries: Michigan and Ohio. However, he only did so by massively outspending his rivals. According to James O’Toole of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Santorum’s campaign staff claims they were outspent by Romney 12-to-1 in Ohio. Though this estimate might be a bit high, there is no doubt that Romney and his super PACs have been spending incredible amounts of cash.
If it takes outspending his opponents 12-to-1 to win by less than a percentage point, what does that say about Romney’s standing?
A tweet from David Axelrod, an Obama campaign strategist, summed things up nicely: “Mitt squeaks by in Ohio behind a blizzard of negative ads, once again persuading a bare plurality that he is not as bad as the other guy.”
Romney’s recent win in Virginia is another example. While he handily carried the state, he did so only because Santorum and Gingrich weren’t on the ballot. A poll conducted by Roanoke College found that, had Santorum been on the ballot, Romney would have won 32 percent to 27, without Santorum even campaigning there. Santorum also had a favorability rating 11 points higher than Romney.
Romney’s relative unpopularity is not too difficult to understand. He has given conservatives few reasons to trust him. While the list of reasons is lengthy, one recent example involves a “USA Today op-ed penned by Romney in July 2009 that urged President Obama to adopt an individual mandate to purchasing health insurance as part of national reform,” according to Tracy Jan of the Boston Globe.
His frequent course-corrections to suit political headwinds aside, the man Republicans are trusting to fight the implementation of Obamacare should not be someone who, less than three years ago, was advocating the basic principles of the health reform that are the most outrageous.
Despite the reservations of conservatives, Republican voters seem be under the impression that Romney has the best chance of winning against Obama in November. Personally, I find this rather humorous.
Poll results complied by Real Clear Politics track hypothetical general election match-ups between Romney and Obama and Santorum and Obama. As of January 26, Obama was leading Romney by a mere 2.3 percentage points. However, Obama’s lead has now increased to 4.9 percentage points. Over that same time period, Obama’s lead over Santorum has shrunk from 10.2 percentage points to 7 points currently.
Thus, Romney is currently only about two percentage points more electable against Obama than Santorum and, while Santorum’s chances are increasing, Romney’s are decreasing.
If this wasn’t enough, a recent article in The Economist points out: “With the sole, admittedly large, exception of Florida, [Romney] has won solid victories only in states that are either small or very unlikely (such as Massachusetts) to vote Republican in the general election.”
Perhaps voters believe Romney is moderate enough to appeal broadly to voters, though I would argue that this is precisely why he’ll lose. Republicans tried this strategy in 2008 with self-proclaimed maverick John McCain. Regardless of whatever appeal he may have with independent voters, Romney can’t win without being able to energize his own party, something he has proven himself to be singularly incapable of doing.
Romney backers may counter by pointing out that, whatever his faults, Romney is still better than Obama, and conservatives would rally around Romney by sheer necessity. While I concede that most Republicans, when faced with a choice between Romney and Obama, would vote for Romney, this oversimplifies the situation.
The overall excitement behind a candidate influences a number of factors: fundraising, campaign volunteers, voter registration, and simply the chance that people will bother to turn out and vote at all. Obama has a proven campaign machine and, despite any criticism he’s received, the unwavering support of the Democratic Party.
If Republicans have to hold their noses to vote for their candidate, the election is already over.
Rick Santorum remains the strongest challenger to Romney and, in my opinion, would be a stronger candidate. Romney frequently points to Santorum’s loss of his Pennsylvania Senate seat in 2006 as proof of Santorum’s lack of electability. But Romney should be wary of comparing electoral records. Santorum won two terms in the House and two terms in the Senate before his loss in 2006, which was a terrible year for Republicans across the board.
Romney, on the other hand, dismally lost a 1994 bid to snatch Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat. He successfully won a single election for Massachusetts governor, only to fail in his 2008 presidential bid.
There are at least some alternatives. Since the two candidates are splitting the conservative vote, were Gingrich to drop out of the race, Santorum could have a good shot at overtaking Romney. This isn’t to say Santorum is an ideal candidate, but one thing is clear: If Republicans want to win in November, Romney needs to go.
Nelsen is a senior majoring in political science. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.