South Poses Primary and General Election Problems for Romney
The South complicates things for Mitt Romney in both the primaries and against Barack Obama
March 7, 2012
If former Gov. Mitt Romney's Super Tuesday performance is any indication, it's going to be very tough for him to rally enough support from Old Dixie voters in the coming months to leave Tampa with a solid, enthusiastic national GOP coalition. He is quite vulnerable. southern voters are neither enamored with his campaign, nor do they trust his Northeast brand of governing. They also continue to struggle with his Mormon faith, and don't trust his amorphous positions on social issues.
Although Georgia exit polls indicated yesterday that gas prices are one of its voters biggest concerns, Gingrich won two thirds of evangelicals, and two fifths of Tea Partyers.
With former Sen. Rick Santorum building momentum from his victories yesterday, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich likely remaining in the race for the next several weeks, Romney may need to write off the fact he doesn't have much of a chance knocking out his opponents' southern garrisons.
But will this even matter in a general election? Outside the rural areas, President Obama performed poorly across the region in 2008. And he's probably not going to be competitive there again this year. Assuming Romney does win the nomination, and those Republican voters will rally around his general election candidacy, he'll probably have enough support November 6 to count the South's electoral votes in his column.
Romney has a much bigger problem nationally, though. His core base of supporters lives in metropolitan areas and urban states. And President Obama is proving much more competitive in those places in current hypothetical matchup polls. Santorum, his organizational and resource issues aside, is winning states and counties that helped tip the electoral balance toward George Bush in 2000 and 2004, and carry Sen. John McCain in 2008. If Gingrich drops out of the race later this month, and Santorum can consolidate the social conservative vote, any chance Romney has of attracting these areas will be shot.
The biggest problem for Romney is most likely Texas. If Rick Santorum engineers a win there on May 29. Romney's fundraising basket will need some serious mending in order to collect enough cash this summer to compete with the president in the fall. Santorum continues to win the Alamo State's preprimary polls. A University of Texas survey conducted last week found that he's the preferred choice of 45 percent of likely GOP voters.
The South's support has been crucial to GOP presidential election victories since 1972. Romney may need to execute a game changer in the coming weeks if he wants to lock up the nomination soon and give himself a solid chance of winning the general election. Revamping his campaign staff and strategy, building strong alliances with southern political leaders, and perhaps considering striking a vice president deal with Santorum could all be good moves to help shore up his weaknesses.