The Chase 2012

Romney’s path to the nomination: Survive and advance

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won six of 10 states on Tuesday and a majority of the delegates. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich showed strength, as he did in South Carolina, in the deep South, dominating Georgia’s primary. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum likewise showed strength in Appalachia and the rust belt areas.

According to a HUMAN EVENTS estimate, Romney has 395 delegates; Santorum has 170 delegates; Gingrich has 105 delegates; and Paul has 55 delegates. A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to win the nomination.

“If I had lost last night in Georgia, I’d have gotten out of the race this morning,” Newt Gingrich told conservative talk radio host Bill Bennett on his radio show this morning. “If I thought [Santorum] was a slam dunk to beat Romney and to beat Obama, I would really consider getting out. I don’t.”

Santorum will also forge forward, pouring $1 million into this Saturday’s Kansas caucus. Santorum also is poised to do strongly in Alabama and Mississippi on March 13 and Missouri five days after that.

So the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Romney is in a slow slog to the nomination, racking up delegate by delegate, even though much of the party is lukewarm to his candidacy, in spite of their desire to defeat Obama. And Gingrich and Santorum, each of whom have an unlikely path to the nomination, temporarily split up the anti-Romney vote, making it difficult for one to consolidate that sentiment while Romney slowly eases ahead.

And while the proportional allocation rules make it difficult — and nearly impossible — for Gingrich and Santorum to get the nomination, it also prevents Romney from delivering a knockout punch, wrapping up the nomination, and focusing on Obama.

“After last night, I feel pretty darn good,” Romney said on CNBC’s “Squwak Box” Wednesday morning, a financial television show  in which he felt comfortable and at home. “I’m encouraged.”

Romney said he will focus on Obama’s failed policies even as his opponents focus on the limits of his personalities and the many gaffes he has made while trying to uncomfortably connect with average Americans like a fish out of water.

“We are going to talk about the president’s record,” Romney said. “I’ll be talking about policies and they’ll be talking about personalities.”

Going back to the process, Romney noted that, “We have a very strong lead in delegates, and a very strong lead in terms of the number of people who have voted.”

“We’ve organized a very effective team… this is the nature of the campaign you have to have to take on the Obama machine,” Romney said. “We have the… resources and the plan… to get the nomination.”

Indeed, without Romney’s organization and considerable financial resources, he likely would not be still standing. And with Gingrich and Santorum not qualifying for the Virginia ballot and Santorum not filing complete delegate slates in Tennessee and Ohio, many Republicans believe that the Romney machine is the least offensive alternative standing to mount a credible campaign against Obama even as they question the candidate’s political instincts, skills and convictions.

Romney will not do well in Kansas, which votes Saturday. He is not likely to do well in Alabama and Mississippi, which vote on March 13. Illinois votes on March 20, where Romney is likely to do well. Then, Louisiana votes on March 24, where Romney may again not fare as well.

The calendar looks more favorable on April 3, when Maryland and Washington, D.C. go to the polls

It is not until April 24, when Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island vote, that Romney will have an opportunity to accelerate his lead in delegates and hope to win back the narrative contest.

A month is an eternity in politics. The name of the game for Romney is simply to survive and advance, like teams do in the NCAA college basketball tournament, and not make any gaffes or implode along the way.

As a sampling of the exit polls show below, Romney will have to survive the more conservative Southern states until the tail end of the calendar fills up with states more receptive to Romney’s moderate, electability message.

Massachusetts

A majority, a total of 59 percent of Republican primary voters, said that the economy was their biggest factor in their voting decision according to exit polls in Massachusetts. Voters in Massachusetts went overwhelmingly to Romney, who served as the state’s governor. Republican primary voters in the state tend to be more liberal, but six in ten said that Romney’s health care law went too far.

Vermont

According to exit polls, the economy was the top issue for Republican primary voters in Vermont. Also, the increasing cost of gas was another big factor in their decision. Republican primary voters in the state greatly favored Romney, and it is the only state in which voters identified as moderate or liberal over conservative. Vermont Republican primary voters were 54 percent moderate or liberal compared to 46 being either somewhat or very conservative. Vermont is a deep-blue state that highly favors Democrats in the general election and it is also a state in which there is an open primary. An open primary allows voters to cross party lines and vote in the opposing party’s primary.

Tennessee

According to exit polls in Tennessee, more Republican primary voters believe that Romney has a better chance of winning a general election, but that Santorum understands Americans better. Tennessee Republican primary voters are overwhelmingly conservative and religiously evangelical. Voters in the state picked electability as their most desired trait in a candidate, with 50 percent picking that as the biggest reason for their vote. Nearly half of Tennessee Republican primary voters didn’t think Romney was conservative enough.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma has a deep-red, conservative Republican primary electorate that is mostly evangelical in its religious affiliation. The issues that drove voters were the economy by a large margin, and abortion to a larger extent than other primary states. 72 percent believe abortion should be illegal. Oklahoma along with Georgia was one of the few states in which voters claimed that they had strong support for the candidates they voted for. Over 90 percent of voters said that gas prices were important to their voting decision.

Jarrett Stepman contributed to this report.

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