Duel on Super Tuesday Romney Has a Santorum Problem

Mitt Romney was supposed to waltz to the Republican nomination this year. That script, though, has long since been discarded with arch-conservative challenger Rick Santorum refusing to go away. Indeed, the underdog has become a dangerous opponent -- and that isn't necessarily good news for the Republicans.

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, greets supporters.
AFP

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, greets supporters.

By in Steubenville, Ohio


It stinks in Steubenville, where the oppressive odor of sulphur hangs in the air. Thick plumes of smog surround the coking plant. The dilapidated houses give the city of 20,000 a desolate feeling, and the community in eastern Ohio has seen better days. The steel industry once brought prosperity, but now only rusty industrial skeletons bear eerie witness to that past.

That's exactly why archconservative Rick Santorum and around 300 of his supporters were there. "Not too many presidential candidates come to Steubenville, Ohio, much less hold their victory party in Steubenville, Ohio," he said at a local high school gymnasium, an oversized American flag in the background.

Santorum won in three states in the latest round of Republican primary voting: Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota. And he nearly won in Ohio, considered the Super Tuesday jackpot.

Underestimated Candidate in a Forgotten City

Ohio is seen as the first prize because it's where normal Americans live. It's a state characterized by blue collar workers and industry. And it's a swing state, sometimes voting Republican and sometimes Democratic, meaning that it will be decisive in November's presidential election. In the end, 38 percent went to Romney with Santorum netting 37 percent, just 12,000 votes behind. Santorum, in other words, fought Romney -- a multi-millionaire with a glittering multi-million dollar campaign -- to a standstill. For hours as the ballots were counted, Santorum was actually ahead.

It would have been something if the underdog had beaten the top dog. On stage with his wife Karen, six children, brother and his family, including his 93-year-old mother, Santorum said: "This is our roots." He comes from the neighboring state of Pennsylvania while his grandfather immigrated from Italy and worked in a coal mine. Santorum didn't mention that he himself made millions as a Washington lobbyist; his campaign focuses on cities that have been left behind and the families who once made them the greatest in the land, he said instead.

It's this brand of populism with which Santorum -- the born-again darling of Evangelical Christians and a Tea Party supporter -- hopes to score points with the unemployed in the American north. The right-wing fringe candidate and his rival Newt Gingrich have long since unleashed a culture war within the Republican Party: the battle between the party's grassroots and Romney, the party establishment's candidate.

Rough Campaign to Come

In actuality the party threatens to implode. The right-wing hardliners who long for the order and moral code of the 1950s don't have much more to say to the moderates in their own party. Santorum seemed enraged and unhappy on Tuesday night in Steubenville. Unbelievably enraged. The party is demoralizing itself.

Santorum and Gingrich are staging a David and Goliath campaign battle, pitting themselves, both financially weak candidates, against the wealthy Romney. Gingrich, who on Tuesday evening managed only a victory in Georgia, will no longer pose much of a threat to Romney. But Santorum, with his three victories and a near-win in Ohio, has become a real risk. The already dirty campaign will only get more bruising in the coming weeks.

There's no end in sight either. Romney failed to finish things off on Super Tuesday. A stalemate looms and the final decision could ultimately be made behind closed doors at the party convention in late summer. It is a horrific scenario for the Republicans, one which could put them at a disadvantage in the general campaign against President Barack Obama.

Mitt Romney celebrated his election party on the East Coast, in the posh city of Boston. His stint as Massachusetts governor was no doubt instrumental in helping him to 70 percent of the vote in the state on Tuesday. "I'm going to get this nomination," Romney told his supporters after winning six of the 10 Super Tuesday states. In addition to Massachusetts and Ohio, he took Vermont, Virginia, Idaho and Alaska. Santorum took the southern states of Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Romney, though, refrained from attacking his opponents on Tuesday evening, congratulating Gingrich and Santorum and their "good followers." They've run "nice races," he said. Sure, it sounded a bit condescending -- like Boston speaking to Steubenville.

White House Chances Dwindle

The truth is that this battle, which simply refuses to come to an end, grates on Romney. Gingrich, along with Ron Paul, who hasn't managed to win in a single state, won't throw in the towel. Worse yet, Santorum is once again gaining momentum. Romney has had to spend tens of millions of dollars in recent weeks to combat yo-yo'ing poll numbers of his opponents. It has cost both time and money that Romney would prefer to use for his campaign against President Barack Obama. But the longer the internecine party battle lasts, the smaller the chance that the Republicans will land in the White House in November 2012.

A Washington Post poll shows that all four of Obama's Republican rivals are unpopular with broad swaths of the American public. Among independent voters, who could be critical this autumn, Romney is favored by a meager 32 percent, with 48 percent of independents viewing him unfavorably. Santorum is viewed favorably by only 30 percent, with Gingrich at a mere 21 percent. At 38 percent, Ron Paul is the most popular among these swing voters.

Following weeks of debate over contraception and abortion, all the candidates have seen their support slide among female voters. When pitted directly against Obama in a poll of women by The Wall Street Journal published this week, Romney only scored the support 37 percent of females, compared to 55 percent for Obama.

To make matters worse for Romney, a CNN reporter managed to catch Tea Party icon Sarah Palin at the ballot box in Wasilla, Alaska. Asked who she would vote for, Palin at first refused to answer. But later she softened, revealing that Newt Gingrich best represented the interests of Alaska residents, and he got her vote.

Then the reporter asked whether, in the event of brokered convention, Palin would present herself as a compromise candidate. "Anything's possible," she replied. Then she smiled. Alaska instead of Steubenville or Boston.

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alfredmifsud 03/07/2012
1. walkover
Palin against Obama?? The GOP can just as well declare surrender and grant a walkover.
khunya 03/08/2012
2.
look back at 2008 primary, between Obama VS Hillary Clinton and both had pulled millions out to vote for them. They fought hard all the way till late June. All pundits thought that they would be at disanvantage against Mccain. And they were wrong. Democrats emerged much stronger and finally won the presidential election. Granted that Mccain and the GOP ran very poor campaign against well-organized team of Obama. However, this primary season is much more different. GOP has no strong candidates, none, and rather weak when pitched against Obama, even though he hasn't done much at all to improve American economy. Republican voters are not exciting about their candidates. Less people came out to vote primary than in 2008. It could very well be that Mitt won't get all delegates required to win nomination. And yes, it's bad news from the start. GOP is disorganized, divided, too much mud sling. None except Ron Paul shows true concerns about Americans and the economy which should be a number 1 priority. They would rather argue something non substance like contraception pills. GOP is indeed doomed.
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