The contest for the 2012 Republican nomination for president
has entered a curious interval. The basic conditions of the race
are unchanged, that is, Mitt Romney is the frontrunner and the now
reduced number of his challengers are still chasing his lead. This past
Tuesday's results in which a hitherto minor candidate won two
caucuses and a non-binding primary did not change this fundamental
condition, although media coverage has attempted to suggest that it
Super Tuesday, at which a large number of delegates will be chosen
for the first time, is about three weeks away, and will begin a series
of primaries in large states that will choose delegates on a
winner-take-all basis. This will soon lead either to the presumptive
nomination of Mr. Romney, or should he fail then, it will lead to an
open convention in Tampa (at which recently withdrawn candidates
might resume their candidacies, and even new candidates might enter
The latter scenario would be the first truly open convention in more
than 50 years, and the outcome, from the view of the present point in
time, would be uncertain. The former scenario, the nomination of Mr.
Romney is more likely, but of course anything can happen in a political
cycle such as this one.
Notwithstanding all of the most recent events, the "significance" of
which I have been suggesting is overstated and overwroght, it is very
difficult to see anyone but Mr Romney or Mr Gingrich accumulating
enough delegates to assure victory in Tampa. Mr. Santorum's "bubble"
of successful fundraising and rising poll numbers should continue for
several days now. If Super Tuesday were next Tuesday (February 14),
he might indeed supercede Mr. Gingrich. But it is Ron Paul who is
likely to be Mr. Romney's principal challenger in Maine, and Mr.
Romney now has the money and time to recover in Arizona and
Michigan, two primary states that precede Super Tuesday. For now,
Mr. Santorum has some mini-momentum in some of the Super
Tuesday states, but the overriding pattern of the 2012 primary cycle
is that no challenger to Mr Romney can sustain his or her "bubble" in
the polls. Mr. Gingrich is not likely to turn suddenly into a political
marshmallow as he faces his last serious opportunity to win his
party's nomination before Tampa. Moreover, Mr. Santorum will now
be "vetted" as he has not been before, and his 12 year-record in the
U.S. senate will be measured against his claims of success in that time.
Voters will also be able to assess why Mr. Santorum, with two senate
terms behind him, was able to lose his re-election in Pennsylvania by
an astonishing 18 points in 2006.
On the other hand, Mr. Romney, with all his organization and available
campaign funding, cannot fail to pull his campaign together as he has
not done before, address his communication problems with doubters in
his own party, and assert himself as the nominee. Mr. Gingrich has
finally adopted a more appealing tone to his campaign, and a less brittle
response to the steady stream of criticism from his rivals. But is it in time,
and enough to give him a third comeback? Can he win in Georgia,
Alabama, Tennessee and Oklahoma (states where he is expected to do
well), and then surprise in Ohio (where Mr. Romney or Mr. Santorum
might be expected to beat him)?
The next three weeks will have few voting events, and will be the final
"slow" time before many primaries will take place in rapid succession.
But the course of the 2012 Republican nomination contest may well be
determined by what happens in this interval below the surface and
behind the scenes.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.