I’ve let a day pass since the primary elections on Tuesday. It provided time to reflect on the results. Listening to the talking political heads on TV, there are certain themes that have emerged, some I agree with, some I don’t. In no particular order, they are:
- Santorum’s victories in Alabama and Mississippi took almost everyone by surprise. Only one Alabama poll had him leading, and that was only by a single point. No Mississippi polls showed him ahead. Yet I followed the returns minute by minute, and except for the very early returns, Santorum led throughout the night. Some attribute this to the high evangelical turnout in those states. That certainly was helpful. But only a few voices keyed in on one of Santorum’s clear strengths: his likeability when one meets him in person and the genuineness of his character. He doesn’t come across as a phony politician saying what he thinks you want to hear. Those who characterize him as strident miss the essence of the man.
- Gingrich lost big time. His only real shot—and it was a true longshot—was to capture both of those states in an area, the South, where he should have been strongest. Almost everyone thinks he has no chance of getting the nomination after these losses, and they believe he should exit the race as gracefully as possible. I couldn’t agree more. He is finished. The only thing his continued candidacy will accomplish is to divide the conservative vote with Santorum, who is the clear consensus choice of the conservative electorate. If he really doesn’t want Romney to get the nomination, he should bow out now. He has declared, though, that he’s going all the way to the convention in Tampa. Will he be forced to rethink that position? When funding dries up, he may have to face the inevitable. It’s a shame he won’t do so now.
- Strange as it seems, Romney came out ahead with new delegates despite his third-place finish in Alabama and Mississippi. He won Hawaii and American Samoa [with all of 70 votes being cast there]. With the proportional division of delegates, that put him 5 0r 6 delegates ahead of Santorum for the evening. For the Romney campaign, it’s all about the math. They continue to say his nomination is a done deal.
- My view: his nomination is no way a done deal. Yes, he still has the inside track, but there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm in the Republican electorate for someone who has to try to convince people he really is a conservative. Santorum, meanwhile, is picking up that lost enthusiasm. I’m fully aware that enthusiasm by itself doesn’t equal victory, but it is an essential ingredient for anyone who eventually gets the win. The last thing the Republican party needs is a nominee who doesn’t generate any real excitement.
- There’s also a lot of talk about the final choice of a candidate not being made until the convention. While I would like to see this settled before the convention, I’m not as dismayed as many seem to be by that prospect. I also question the belief that a prolonged primary season is bad for the Republicans. A thorough vetting of the two candidates who are left is very important. We shouldn’t just jump on a bandwagon of inevitability and then face buyer’s remorse later. A vibrant convention that actually chooses the party’s nominee might inspire enthusiasm when all is said and done. Who knows? Political analysts and professional campaign staff have been wrong innumerable times before.
Sometimes, it takes time for a candidate to grab the attention of the voters. And once he gets that attention, it takes time to fund a complete campaign staff. That’s what is happening with Santorum, and it would be a travesty to allow the early primary and caucus states to determine the nominee before a good number of the other states get their say. Illinois and Louisiana are next on the docket. Romney currently leads in Illinois, but there’s no telling how Santorum’s latest victories may change that. Louisiana polling shows Santorum on top at present. If he takes both of those, can anyone justifiably say this race is over?
It will be over only when it’s over.