Over in the U.S News Debate Club, you'll find an interesting symposium on whether the fact that former Gov. Mitt Romney has, thus far, performed poorly in Southern states constitutes a full-blown Southern problem. I had some inchoate thoughts of my own on this topic on the night of Super Tuesday. Let me add a couple more cents.
I notice that those who dismiss Romney's Southern problem make the sensible-seeming point that there's no way a Republican, any Republican, is going to lose in states like South Carolina or Alabama or Georgia in the general election.
Yet this misses the subtle nature of the problem, which is this: Republican presidential candidates obviously don't win general elections by winning Dixie alone. They win in swing states like Ohio. And they win in swing states like Ohio by turning out Southern-type voters who live in Ohio—evangelicals and Reagan Democrats.
After Super Tuesday, Team Romney bragged about the fact that it was winning in the most populous parts of Ohio—in and around Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Akron. Former Sen. Rick Santorum won sparsely populated counties, where rural evangelicals dominate.
All true. But it's a temporary—I would argue illusory—advantage. President Obama is going to crush Mitt Romney in those parts of Ohio. Romney is winning those areas now on the backs of wealthy seniors—the Old Guard of the GOP. He's not appealing to the poor Democrats and independent Democratic-leaning professionals who will deliver urban areas to Obama
Here's the way things stand now:
Romney is losing (huge) among Latinos.
He's losing the white working class.
He's losing among women.
He's turning off independents.
Romney's "strength," in other words, is more like a weakness. He shows no sign of being able to appeal to or motivate evangelicals, the white working class, or those who self-describe as "very conservative." Romney's "Southern problem" therefore isn't that he's in danger of losing Southern states; it's that he's not reaching those demographic chunks of non-Southern states that most resemble the South.
Will these voters turn to Obama? The great majority of them surely won't.
But, like the four million absent evangelicals who Karl Rove believes proved decisive in the 2000 popular vote, they might just stay home.
If Team Romney's response to concerns about the South boils down to "We're doing well in Cleveland," then Team Romney is one self-deluding bunch.