State of the GOP Race: On To Pennsylvania

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Former Gov. Mitt Romney won handily in Wisconsin, Maryland and DC primaries on Tuesday. There are a couple conclusions born out of results in Wisconsin, in particular. As the primary race drags on, challenges for each of the presidential hopefuls remain. The next test will come in Pennsylvania, seen as a must-win for home son Sen. Santorum if he intends on surviving as a viable GOP competitor. For the remaining candidates, Republican nomination rules work in their favor to hang on for the national convention in June.

In Wisconsin, for all the endorsements Gov. Romney received last week, the exit polling showed that they had little to no effect on his result. Sen. Santorum lost Wisconsin by 56,000 votes (8%) but he won 3 congressional districts (or 9 delegates), while losing at least two other districts by 1-2 percentage points. In exit polling, Sen. Santorum lost Catholic voters decisively. The figures show he would have won Wisconsin if he was at least running even with Catholic voters. The same is true in Michigan and Ohio. Instead, he’s been losing Catholic voters on an average of 15% and Catholic women by nearly 25%.

In terms of the delegate count, results this week were significant due to the bound delegates awarded. Gov. Romney swept all of DC’s and Maryland’s delegates and in Wisconsin he obtained 33 out of 42 delegates. As a result, Governor Romney netted 79 delegates (86-9).

The actual selection of delegates in the caucus states is also starting to emerge. Whatever one thinks of Dr. Ron Paul, his delegates have done their homework, they know the GOP’s election laws and are following them by the book, which is something the other candidate’s supporters aren’t doing.

So many legal Dr. Paul delegate hopefuls have decided to participate this time that the GOP establishment doesn’t have the organization in place – particularly given the lack of love for Gov. Romney – to cover the incredible amount of locations being overrun by Paul supporters. In turn, Paul’s delegates are winning the majority of the caucus state delegates in many of those states anyway. Given how Gov. Romney’s campaign is operating, it makes it very difficult for the congressman to reconcile with Gov. Romney given the antics and shenanigans –most recently in North Dakota.

In Nevada, assuming people Republicans play fair, the Dr. Paul supporters will have complete and total control of the Nevada delegation and probably the entire Republican apparatus in the state. This was only achieved after beating back Romney antics. Still, if history is any indicator, the Republican establishment may attempt to undo this. Four years ago, GOP leaders who supported then-presidential candidate Sen. John McCain abruptly shut down the state convention in Reno when it appeared Dr. Paul would take most of Nevada’s delegates to the national convention.

In the past, Dr. Paul supporters have said that they would follow party rules requiring Nevada’s 28 delegates be bound on the first ballot to vote in line with the GOP caucus-winning percentages. That was then, this is now. It also means if it comes down to credentials and other challenges, the Paul delegates are on their own and will be driving the train.

In North Dakota, where Gov. Romney ran third in the caucuses, Republicans at their state convention last weekend chose a delegation that over represents Gov. Romney supporters and not enough people who want Sen. Santorum or Dr. Paul. It appears that people are upset. While the delegation is officially uncommitted, in terms of delegates awarded, it stands as: Romney 20, Santorum 6, and Paul 2. In contrast, if one was to go by a caucus straw vote, it stands as: Santorum 11, Paul 8, Romney 7, and Gingrich 2. Opponents of the delegate selection process made a last attempt to challenge it on Sunday. Instead, the convention’s floor microphones were turned off and the meeting was adjourned.

In Washington State, Sen. Santorum and Dr. Paul supporters are now tag teaming to basically prevent any attempt by Romney to get any of the 43 delegates at play in the state. In a Seattle Times article, Sen. Santorum state volunteer coordinator Graden Neal stated that Sen. Santorum personally directed the alliance in a recent conference call. While the King County Republican Party Chairman Lori Sotelo says the newly formed alliance is “weird”, a spokeswoman for the Dr. Paul campaign, though, said in an email they are “fully aboard” with the effort.

There are long term implications to this. Gov. Romney supporters tend to be above age 55, Sen. Santorum supporters tend to be age 40 to 55, and the Dr. Paul supporters are all under 30. Demographically, it’s no brainer as to where the future lies. The Dr. Paul supporters, agree with them or not, are the only group of young people who even have an interest in working to elect Republicans down the road. Yet, that is who the GOP establishment is risking alienating. Republicans, at a minimum, have to scrap the caucus system. It is unrepresentative and divisive.

In part because of the Romney campaign’s tactics, Sen. Santorum shows no signs of letting up. In Wisconsin, he ran a devastating and effective ad which showed a picture of President Obama and stated that a candidate for President had taken a series of positions totally toxic to Republican positions. The ad closes with the female announcer on camera stating that these were not President Obama’s position but Gov. Romney’s. Had Sen. Santorum had the resources to run that ad at a saturation rate, he might well have won Wisconsin.

While the ad is accurate, it is a function of how Republicans win statewide elections in the North East – in New England in particular. In Massachusetts, party registration has Democrats at 37%, Republicans at 11%, Unenrolled/Independents at 51%, others 1%. A Republican winning a statewide race is slim.

The race now goes on a 3-week lull, with the next big primary on April 24th in Sen. Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania. There is a substantial question whether Sen. Santorum can decisively, or even narrowly beat Romney in Pennsylvania. While Sen. Santorum has won Republican statewide primaries twice. However, in 1994, Sen. Santorum ran as a default candidate against Sen. Harris Wofford and nearly imploded at the end, even in a GOP banner year.

The Republican Pennsylvania primary is a closed primary. That means Conservative Reagan Democrats, who he may appeal to, cannot vote for him since very few bother to switch their party registration.

Secondly, Pennsylvania still has numerically a very large number of moderate Republicans. Ford crushed Reagan in Pennsylvania in 1976, as did George H.W. Bush against Reagan in 1980. Sen. Santorum’s foray into social issues is a killer. In Pennsylvania, key voting areas are the Philadelphia suburbs and the Lehigh Valley, both of which are filled with moderate voters, particularly women. However, the Republican vote in Central and Western Pennsylvania is a larger percentage than in the past and there are a large number of union members who are registered Republicans in Pennsylvania.

Sen. Santorum remains the local candidate. The Gov. Romney attack machine normally does not work when aimed at the local candidate. As has been noted, former Speaker Newt Gingrich withstood the Romney assault in his adopted home state of Georgia, specifically by campaigning as if he were seeking statewide office rather than the presidency.

Another beacon of hope, Sen. Santorum’s Super PAC supporters have stated that they are willing to spend the money to fight to the finish.