Mitt Just Can’t Close the Deal

Updated March 7th, 8:00 AM

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney picked up a few victories on Super Tuesday—in the Bay State, nearby Vermont, and largely uncontested Virginia.

And he eked out a slender victory in Ohio over former Senator Rick Santorum after a heart-stopping evening in which he trailed his less organized and underfunded rival. Romney won by about one percentage point.

Though not the biggest prize in delegates last night (Georgia, which favorite son Newt Gingrich won, has ten more), Ohio is symbolically important because it’s a swing state in the critical Midwestern region.

Meanwhile, Santorum racked up victories in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee, which Romney may have hoped to win.

Mitt Romney campaigns in Charleston, SC. Photo: Howard R. Gold/The Independent Agenda.

Romney’s team stresses it’s in for the long haul, counting delegates and looking towards the convention in Tampa in August. His advisers claim none of the other candidates can mathematically win the 1,144 delegates required to get the nomination.

But something’s really wrong.

After putting away Michigan last week, Romney should have been poised to wrap up Ohio and other states easily this week.

The chorus of Republican elders calling for this race to end has been getting louder and louder as the polls show the campaign is having a disastrous impact on the Republican “brand” among key groups like Hispanics, suburban women, and especially independents.

Even former First Lady Barbara Bush, one of the most admired women in America, called it “the worst campaign I’ve ever seen.”

But Romney hasn’t made any headway in the Evangelical-dominated South, where he has yet to break 30% of the vote anywhere (except for megastate Florida, which isn’t really “southern”).  And he outspent Santorum dramatically in Ohio, so it shouldn’t even be close there.

Maybe it’s his Mormonism, maybe it’s his flip flopping, or maybe it’s the new revelations that he actually did recommend the individual mandate to the Obama Administration in a 2009 op-ed in USA Today. And maybe much of the Republican electorate is too extreme, as I’ve suggested many times, making it impossible for any but the most conservative candidates to win.

“He’s trapped between his ambition and how the Republican Party has changed, and how do you make that work?” asked John Harwood on CNBC Tuesday morning.

But it is their party, and at some point the candidate has to take responsibility for his failure to connect with voters.  Even after winning Ohio, “he’s probably in the worst position of any Republican candidate going into the general election,” GOP consultant Matthew Dowd said on Good Morning America.

Wrote conservative columnist David Frum on The Daily Beast Tuesday night: “Against such a weak field, for Romney to be battling to carry Ohio is deeply, deeply ominous.” Indeed it is, especially with southern primaries coming in the weeks ahead in which Santorum or Gingrich should garner favorable headlines.

But if Romney can’t close the deal, who can?

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