With only days away from the South Carolina primary vote in the
Republican contest for president, the final choice may be approaching
a conclusion much sooner than expected. Former Massachusetts
Governor Mitt Romney seems to be expanding a previously narrow
lead in this state, as the polemical and advertising attacks on him by
most of his rivals do not yet appear to be taking hold. Already, a number
of tough ads, many supporting him, some attacking him and his major
opponents are airing in Florida, but they might be moot exercises if the
long-time frontrunner for the GOP nomination wins big in South
Carolina, thus transforming him from mere frontrunner to presumptive
The final word, of course, will come from actual votes counted, and with
a sizable number of undecided Palmetto State voters, nothing is yet
certain. On the other hand, the early skirmishes among the GOP hopefuls
have clarified some of the basic issues concerning voters and their
attitudes to the conclusion of the election in November.
While Romney is clearly not the first choice of evangelical and socially
conservative voters, he is doing much better with them than predicted in
voting so far. If he wins in very conservative and evangelical South
Carolina, this trend will have been confirmed. If he does not, Romney
remains in the driver's seat in Florida, the first large state primary
where cash and organization is necessary to doing well. (On the other
hand, should Gingrich or Santorum win in South Carolina and Florida,
the momentum in this race could change dramatically.)
The primary criticisms of Romney have been his "flip-flopping" over
conservative issues, and his record as CEO of Bain Capital. A third issue,
his being a Mormon, seems not to be a notable factor, especially in light
of the surprising support he is receiving from some social conservatives
and some evangelicals. While it is clear that Romney took different
positions on abortion and other conservative issues earlier in his political
career, many Republicans seem to be convinced that his now strong
conservative views are what he would take to the Oval Office.
Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry each have tried to make Romney's
stewardship of Bain Capital a liability. This aroused some negative
feedback from economic conservatives, including many who were not
supporting Romney. They contended that these attacks were
"anti-capitalist," and uncomfortably similar to expected attacks from the
Democrats and the Obama campaign. Mr. Gingrich argued that it was
better for Mr. Romney to defend himself now on this issue, rather than to
wait until the end of the campaign in October. An anti-Romney video
featuring the alleged consequences of his Bain stewardship has run in
quite a bit in South Carolina, and seemed to have some effect, but if the
latest polls showing Romney beginning to pull away continue to primary
day, the issue will have turned out not to be as serious as some have
predicted, and may give the Obama second thoughts about using it.
Super Tuesday is soon ahead, and then a number of large northern state
primaries. If the race is to continue much past South Carolina, a very
large amount of cash will be necessary and effective organization will be
necessary to compete in them. Some of Mr. Romney's rivals have cash,
at least for now, but none of them can match him for organization.
Republican voters seem so far deeply troubled by the policies of the
Obama administration, and by the failure of the Congress, including the
GOP-controlled house of representatives, to control spending and to
stop increasing the debt limit. All the Republican candidates are pro-life,
pro-gun and for cutting taxes, views not shared by most Democrats. But
these views may be shared by a majority of independents, and for this
reason, the re-election of President Obama is in trouble.
The Republican majority in the house may have to turn up its political
courage, and finally block further expansion of the debt limit (the next
one has already been requested by the president), and the Republicans,
in both their presidential and congressional campaigns will have to find
a way to successfully expose the numbers game the administration is
playing with the unemployment figures. (Since Mr. Obama has taken
office, his administration has arbitrarily reduced the number of workers
counted as "unemployed," thus conveniently reducing the full impact of
the percentage of Americans who are out of work. Currently, that number
is listed as 8.5 percent, but based on the worker pool counted when Mr.
Obama took office, the real percentage is over 10 percent. In short, Mr.
Obama is "cooking the unemployment books.") The economy
and jobs have clearly emerged as prime issues for 2012, and Republicans
have so far been talking to conservatives who see the world as they do.
Their challenge, with whomever their nominee will be, is to speak
clearly and effectively to independents and disgruntled Democrats on
these and other issues in September and October.
[SPECIAL NOTE: After this was posted, it was reported that former
Utah Governor Jon Huntsman will withdraw from the presidential race
tomorrow morning and endorse Mitt Romney. If this is true, it is likely
to further create momentum for Mr. Romney.]
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.