By Mary Kate Cary |
Former Gov. Mitt Romney can close the deal with conservatives, but he's going to have to pull a fast break on former Sen. Rick Santorum's gogoplata. If he can't, the GOP primary will run three rounds and make his general election bid all the more exigent.
Romney's problem is his wavering narrative. His perdurable, roily message has only served to exacerbate the right's reluctance to embrace his candidacy. He has allowed his opponents to control the agenda and has spent too much time on a jack-of-all-trades defense. Which short shrifts his most attractive selling point: electability.
If yesterday's exit polls are an indication, electability remains the main criterion of most GOP voters' vote choice. Sixty-one percent of Romney's Michigan voters chose him because of his potential to beat President Obama, and 38 percent said the same in Arizona. Despite Santorum's co-option of the campaign agenda over Obama's contraceptives mandate, electability is the core message Romney needs to push into Super Tuesday—not quantifying the degree of his conservatism or indeterminate stance on social issues.
Romney will be aided by Santorum's meteoric drop in the polls. Santorum's poor debate performance and claim that President Kennedy's 1960 religious freedom speech was a causative agent of emesis alienate a good portion of middle-of-the-road conservatives. Voters are more concerned with lifting the restrictions on job growth, not increasing them on contraceptives.
Romney will most likely win the nomination, but he needs to close the deal next week. Republicans will rally around their nominee, regardless of name, but a long slog to the finish will place an increasing financial burden on his campaign. And that could leave him devitalized going into the general election.
About Jamie Chandler Professor at Hunter College
Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
David Crockett Author of 'Running Against the Grain: How Opposition Candidates Win Presidential Election'
Lara Brown Professor at Villanova University