As the Republican presidential primary contest among candidates (from left) Rep. Ron Paul, former Sen. Rick Santorum, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Speaker Newt Gingrich drags on, party members worry that the delay in securing a nominee will hurt the GOP in the general election.
As the volatile Republican primary drags on, party operatives are growing concerned that their presidential nominee could be woefully unprepared to wage a national campaign against President Barack Obama.
Unlike the extended 2008 Democratic primary — during which Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton built experienced, highly organized political operations — only two of the four Republicans still standing, Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), have assembled national campaigns capable of pivoting to the general election. And of the two, only the former Massachusetts governor is considered a real contender for the nomination.
Romney has been a weak frontrunner and has demonstrated vulnerabilities that could doom his bid. Most recently, he has been attempting to fight off former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), who had been considered a major underdog until he became the latest alternative to surge in early February. Whether Romney can defeat Santorum in Arizona and Michigan this week could determine the fate of his campaign heading into Super Tuesday.
But veteran GOP operatives with experience assembling and running presidential campaigns worry that Santorum and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) have thus far proved incapable of translating electoral success in the primary into a national political operation, arguing that there is insufficient time between now and Nov. 6 to construct an organization on par with Obama’s re-election machine. That will be even more true if the eventual nominee doesn’t start to build such an operation until the conclusion of a bloody primary that might not end until June.
Steve Schmidt, who managed Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, said building an effective national campaign virtually from scratch in less than a year — much less the preferred period of at least 18 months — is difficult to impossible. Schmidt, who is also a veteran of President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election, said the Republican nominee could be at a severe disadvantage in identifying and turning out voters against Obama, whose 2008 campaign set a new standard for organizational muscle.
“John McCain proved that you don’t need much of an organization to win a Republican primary — and you still don’t. But you need organization to win the general,” Schmidt told Roll Call, adding that Arizona’s senior Senator won the 2008 nomination “on a wing and a prayer and was never really able to recover on an organizational level against the Obama campaign.”
Gingrich and Santorum — as well as candidates who have since exited the race — seem to hope to win the nomination in much the same way as McCain did, and indeed, they have alternately thrived despite organizational limitations. Gingrich handily won South Carolina; Santorum narrowly won Iowa and was victorious in “beauty contests” in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.
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