By Mary Kate Cary |
Whatever has been said over the previous weeks about former Gov. Mitt Romney being a less than sure-footed front-runner, it can't be ignored that he's now defeated all comers and shown in crucial moments during this nomination race that he possesses the requisite "fire in the belly" to do what needs to be done in order to win the presidency. Eventually, conservative voters will coalesce, not out of frustration, but out of respect, around his candidacy and turn their sights on winning the White House.
Although some Republican strategists believe that over the course of this process he's become "a human wrecking ball," the reality is that with each comeback moment, whether in a debate or in a state contest, he's gaining supporters. Case in point: He earned about 72,000 more votes and a larger total percentage of the vote (41 percent vs. 39 percent) in Michigan last night than he did in 2008. Generally, he's winning over those who have long worried that he's too soft, led too cushy a life, and came too easily to the front-runner position. Through his doggedness, Romney's demonstrating that he has the tenacity and the resiliency—the grit—to take on and possibly defeat an incumbent president, for whom the historical odds of re-election are in favor.
This is also not an accident or quirk of fate. Since last August when Rep. Michele Bachmann rocketed to the top of the polls, conservatives have sought not only a forceful advocate of their ideological positions, but also to test Romney. Despite many conservatives voting for him in 2008 over former Gov. Mike Huckabee in counties that former Sen. Rick Santorum has won this year (e.g., Woodbury County, Ind.; Cole County, Mo.; El Paso County, Colo.), many have also suggested that he wasn't properly vetted last time and that if he wants their support, he'd best fight for it. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's comment in favor of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, if only "to keep things going" prior to the South Carolina primary captures well the sentiments of these voters.
In Michigan, the exit polls revealed that Santorum's electoral competitiveness, like the previous "not-Mitt" also-rans, had little to do with him. Only 32 percent of those who voted for Santorum said they "strongly favor" him, whereas 46 percent of Romney voters said the same about their candidate. Further 81 percent said they would either "definitely" or "probably" vote Republican in November, meaning that Romney's doing just fine among most GOP voters.
Even though Romney's got more work to do before Super Tuesday, he's proving through this grueling nomination contest that he's not only up to the task, but also that he deserves this shot.
About Lara Brown Professor at Villanova University
Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
David Crockett Author of 'Running Against the Grain: How Opposition Candidates Win Presidential Election'