It's Too Early to Write Off Either Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney

Barack Obama and John McCain traveled unlikely paths to their nominations in 2008.

By SHARE

Sen. John McCain was dead—or so we were told. His campaign in 2007 had foundered; he had a staff exodus, and there was little chance he'd stay in the presidential campaign past Labor Day, let alone be a viable contender for the 2008 GOP nomination. Except that McCain did win the nomination, having done a critical re-think of his strategy and successfully comparing himself to the rest of the field.

Then Sen. Barack Obama, too, was dismissed by many as a flash-in-the-pan contender in the run-up to the 2008 election. He was too green, we were told, and had no chance against the experienced and well-funded Hillary Clinton. Except that now he lives in the White Hose and counts his former rival as a star member of his cabinet.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

These are useful lessons for both former Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum—the first of whom is being cast as a loser, despite being ahead in the delegate race, and the second of whom is still widely regarded as a longshot for the nomination despite three recent primary contest wins and leads (though very small) in polls. Romney's being cast as a loser not because he is actually losing—at least yet—but because he hasn't sewn up the nomination as many pundits expected he would have done by now. True, Romney's whack-a-mole path to what he hopes will be the GOP nomination is a strong indicator that the party is not entirely happy with him. But he's still well-funded, well-organized, and a good bet for the Republican pick.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]

Santorum, meanwhile, is still trying to convince people that he has a legitimate claim to the nomination even though he has been doing spectacularly well of late. Again, his successes are cast against early expectations of his demise, presumptions so deep that Santorum rightly complained during early debates that he was being ignored by the moderators. The impressive story about Santorum is not his ability to take advantage of Romney's weaknesses. The former Pennsylvania senator has shown a passion and genuineness on the campaign trail that he rarely displayed when he was a Capitol Hill lawmaker. It may not be enough to overcome Romney's superior fundraising and organization, but it's laudable. And it's the reason Santorum has emerged among the rest of the pack to become the leading challenger to Romney.

There's only one set of opinions that truly matters, and that is those of the primary and caucuses voters. McCain and Obama understood that in 2008. Romney and Santorum are wise to remember that in this tumultuous campaign year.

  • See pictures of Mitt Romney
  • See pictures of Rick Santorum
  • Read the U.S. News debate: Can Anything Stop Mitt Romney?