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For Mitt Romney, a Good Night but Not a Knockout

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wrapped up more delegates on Super Tuesday in his quest to be the GOP’s presidential nominee.

More than two months after the race for the Republican nomination began in Iowa, the contest remains stuck. That’s both good and bad news for the leader in the Republican race.

No one in the GOP contest is able to overtake Mitt Romney, but the former Massachusetts governor seems incapable of putting away his opponents decisively.

On Tuesday, Romney won his home state (Massachusetts) and a neighboring state in New England (Vermont), a state where only he and Ron Paul were on the ballot (Virginia) and yet another Western state with a significant Mormon population (Idaho). And, of course, late in the evening, he squeezed out a narrow but crucially important win in Ohio and added Alaska to his list of victories.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) scored wins in Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia easily.

That’s six wins for Romney, three for Santorum and one for Gingrich. And Romney’s delegate haul was just as big. At least by the numbers, it was a very good night for the Republican frontrunner.

Romney probably isn’t getting the credit he deserves for Tuesday because the early evening narrative was built — with help from Twitter and an early raw vote total that was disproportionately rural — around the beating he took in Tennessee and Santorum’s early showing in Ohio.

My own assessment of the night changed between the time I left the set of PBS’ “NewsHour” around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday and the time I was driving into work Wednesday morning. Throughout much of Tuesday night, Romney’s showing seemed disappointing. But by Wednesday, with a little more perspective on the evening’s results, Romney seemed to deserve a bit more credit, at least in my mind.

Romney continues to perform best among the same voting groups week after week: highly educated voters, high-income voters, urban and suburban voters, older voters, the less religious, moderate and liberal voters, “somewhat conservative” voters, nonevangelicals and those who oppose the tea party.

In contrast, he continues to underperform among rural voters, evangelicals and those for whom the religious beliefs of the candidates matter a great deal, those who believe that abortion should always be illegal and “very conservative” voters.

The religious/ideological divide in the Republican Party appears deep and difficult to broach for any candidate, and as long as none of the candidates can expand his appeal within the party, it is difficult to see the race ending.

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