By Robert Schlesinger |
The drawn-out primaries will prove to be a boon to the Romney campaign. They have forced him to develop effective strategies to mitigate glaring weaknesses that threaten his chances of beating President Obama. He's gained solid evidence that he's weak among rural voters, that it costs him a lot to win votes, and that GOP enthusiasm is much lower than it was in 2008. The more competitive primaries he faces, the more he'll be able to test out various strategies to find the ones that will bear the most fruit come fall.
The county-level results show that he's far too weak in the rural counties that drove President Bush's 2000 and 2004 victories. He's got to replicate this advantage if he wants to win in November. Competition provides him with a compelling incentive to work harder to attract them. He has to offset his strengths in metropolitan areas with solid mobilization plans to win them over. If the Wisconsin results are any indicator, he's got to do more.
Romney is also spending far too much to win votes. It costs him $28 per vote, compared to Santorum's $8. President Obama will out-fundraise him 3 to 1. Unless he cuts down this cost, he'll have exhausted his war chest, and end up in the same situation Bob Dole faced in 1996 against Bill Clinton. He'll be forced to rely on matching funds and unable to counter President Obama's aggressive advertising campaign.
There are about a million fewer Republicans voting this year. The county-level results give Romney visibility into the geography of lackluster turnout. A short primary cycle would have masked these results. The information helps Romney execute much more targeted mobilization strategies.
If anything, the long race will give the GOP an edge in November. The media coverage and candidate's presence in multiple states gives voters more information about the party's agenda. The GOP is getting out its message much earlier, so Republicans have a lot more time to use redundant communication techniques to reinforce it. This was not the case for John McCain in 2008. The party engaged too late in the season to give him an edge. Republicans should stop grumbling--in the long run they'll have a better chance of owning the White House come January 2013.
About Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College
Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
Ron Bonjean Former Chief of Staff for the Senate Republican Conference
Michael Marshall Policy Adviser and Communications Director to former Sen. Bob Dole
Krystal Ball MSNBC Contributor and former Democratic nominee for Congress