I watched a little bit of the election coverage as the results came in from Alabama and Mississippi. This has turned out to be a big night for Rick Santorum, winning both Southern contests, and showing his viability in the South. Newt Gingrich finished a close second in both states, while Mitt Romney was a point or two behind Gingrich in both of the primaries. What’s important to note about the contest is that Gingrich has demonstrated that he can still beat Romney in the South, but for Santorum, he’s delivered a one-two punch because he beat both the former speaker, who represented Georgia, and Mitt Romney, who still doesn’t seem to find any traction in the South, or in heavily conservative states. Mitt Romney is the alleged “front-runner,” but as Gingrich pointed out cheerfully in post election remarks, it’s not much of a “front-runner who keeps finishing third.”
To finish in third is a real defeat for Romney, because what it demonstrates is that he’s not getting it done with conservatives. More than seventy-five percent of the Republican electorate in either state considers themselves ‘conservative,’ but with Romney capturing no more than 30%, it’s clear that Romney has some real work to do in the South. Put another way, in the South, it was Non-Romney 70% to Romney’s 30%. This late in the game, that’s a pretty stark beating. While the delegates gained will be split three ways with Ron Paul capturing none(barely breaking 5% in Alabama,) what you really have here is an indication that Romney isn’t the inevitable nominee after all. He certainly remains in the lead in delegates, but let’s keep this in context. Taking Mississippi as an example, Non-Romney captured 24 delegates to Romney’s 12. If it continues at this pace, he will never attain the 1144 mark, and we will have a brokered convention unless one of the other two can pick up significant momentum and finally push Romney down.
I don’t know if that’s possible, but Romney’s camp is clearly worried. They’re out-spending all competitors at a rate of 20-to-1 in most of these contests, meaning that his return on contributors’ investments in his campaign is pretty low. Meanwhile, the much more frugal Gingrich and Santorum campaigns are getting much more bang for their bucks. If Santorum keeps edging out Romney like this, it won’t be long before some money starts moving his way, as the aura of “invincibility” that the media has projected around Mitt Romney begins to fade.
This also means that from now until the convention will become a much more expensive road for Mitt Romney, and rather than sewing this up early as had been his plan, the big money spent in Florida might have given him some momentum, but with narrow victories in Michigan and Ohio, and losses in Colorado, Tennessee and Kansas, but now also these two Southern contests, suddenly, it’s not over, and not nearly so. It also offers him some serious trouble in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, although he’ll probably fare better in New York and New Jersey among remaining Northeastern States.
If this is any indication of what lies ahead, Rick Santorum may get another bump in momentum, and even Gingrich, though finishing in second in both contests, because it was so close, and because he effectively scored as many delegates as either of the other remains alive. Romney probably takes the biggest black eye out of Tuesday’s Southern contests. The other thing this indicates is that in the South, money isn’t everything. If it were, Romney would have cleaned up, having the huge money advantage he has exploited to great advantage throughout this campaign.
The question remains: What will run out first? Romney’s money, or the pure passion of Non-Romney voters? After tonight, it looks like it will be a test of cash versus passion, and conservatives are known to have large reserves of the latter. If Romney can’t start winning in the South, he may find himself in serious jeopardy even if he ultimately wins the nomination. Conservative voters simply aren’t motivated in the same way Democrats are, and they aren’t driven by fear. The desire to defeat Obama may not be enough to get them all to the polls in November, and if it doesn’t, Romney has no chance of winning.
I also think this points out the flaw in many Republican strategists’ view of the South, or of the election altogether: They want to nominate a guy who may win the nomination mostly on the strength of wins in states where that same candidate will have difficulty against Obama in the Fall, if he can win in them at all, meanwhile, he can’t motivate Southern voters. I would love for one of these well-compensated professional political consultants to explain to we conservatives how that is a winning strategy against Barack Obama. It’s predicated on winning without us in the primaries, and taking us for granted in the general.