The announcement by Rick Santorum that he is pulling out of the GOP primary race should come as no shock to anyone who was paying attention the last few weeks. Indeed, since my op-ed piece on him last month where I pronounced – frighteningly – that he could beat Obama in a general election, the former Pennsylvania senator has sunk like the Titanic in the opinion polls.
Hint, in case you haven’t noticed, I am the kiss of death when it comes to writing about candidates. When I wrote a piece about Newt Gingrich – Eye of the Newt – Gingrich was considered the major challenger to Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination. So how’s the former Speaker of the House doing since then? Well, to paraphrase Chevy Chase, Newt Gingrich is still valiantly holding on in his fight to remain dead, politically speaking that is. By the way, if I ever call to do a story on you, feel free to hang up.
Seriously, Santorum’s decision is the best gift he could’ve given the GOP. While social conservatives will mourn the loss of their valiant hero, the simple truth is he had become his own worst enemy and was bringing down his Party’s chances to win the general election. Every time he came close to closing the gap with Romney he would stick his foot in his mouth and drive potential voters away.
Despite his best bravado, Santorum appealed primarily to people so far to the right that the words mainstream and socialist might as well be synonymous. His extreme views on contraception and his “take” on JFK’s famous separation of church and state speech had become a lightning rod for opponents.
If you look closely at the numbers, it was obvious that Santorum was winning the states few if any believe will be in dispute come November; whereas Romney was winning the states Republicans will need to turn blue in order to win the White House, including Florida and Ohio. Translation, it’s the swing states stupid. Really, does anyone seriously believe that South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama are in danger of going blue this fall? Didn’t think so. Preaching to the choir – those who were already predisposed to vote for him anyway – was getting old fast, and everybody knew it. A Santorum nomination, as improbable as it might’ve been, would’ve guaranteed an electoral landslide for the President.
Now that he is out of the picture, the path is now clear for Captain Fliptastic to take the nomination and build a consensus around what promises to be a brutal general election campaign, much to the relief of Republicans and the chagrin of Democrats who were hoping – praying – that this food fight would go on a bit longer.
Not surprisingly, the White House stepped up its attacks on the former Massachusetts governor. The strategy should be simple enough; go after Romney where he is most vulnerable: his flip-flopping and his inability to connect with the working class. And while I whole heartedly concur with the latter – Romney makes the Richie Rich kid look like Little Orphan Annie – the former has the potential to backfire.
Let’s assume the Republican base, regardless of how disenchanted they might be with the presumptive nominee, comes out enforce and votes as expected: along party lines. Let’s also assume that the Democratic base, terrified of letting the GOP run roughshod all over the country, does the same thing. That means that all-important independent vote gets to break the tie. One man’s flip flop could well be another’s pragmatism and ability to be flexible. In an ironic twist of fate, what was once considered a liability by the far-right conservative base might well turn out to be an advantage to independent voters. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants.
I have said from day one that Mitt Romney will be the biggest challenge to an Obama second term. Not since Reagan has the Republican Party had a candidate that polls well in six out of seven geographical areas of the country. He holds his own in the Northeast – indeed he could conceivably take Massachusetts and New Hampshire, though more than likely he will narrowly lose both. He will more than likely split the mid-Atlantic states. Forget the South, where they will vote for a pet rock before they vote for Obama. [The only exception being Florida, which, with its 29 electoral votes, is wide open.] He will snatch one, possibly two Rust-belt states. He’ll sweep the Plains states. And out in the Southwest, he will take Utah (of course), Arizona and possibly Colorado. That leaves the West Coast, where Obama will win handily.
By my count seven states will likely decide this election: North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Colorado and Florida. If Obama takes four of them, he keeps the White House. If Romney wins four or more of them, it’s likely game over. Forget the national polls, which are quite meaningless. For the next seven months, it’ll be swing time in America.
Fasten your seatbelts, kids. This is going to be one hell of a rumble.