Before I dozed off around 12:30am, most Super Tuesday-related results were in except Ohio. I was shocked, shocked I say, how close that race was and this morning when I awoke around 5:30am, my gut proved correct: Mitt Romney eked out a victory in a state where a week ago, he was down in the polls anywhere from five to seven points. The Quinnipiac poll is usually a reliable barometer and it held Santorum as the Ohio leader for two weeks running. Yet, he lost it. He had the lead for over a month and what did he do? He just plain lost it.
As I said yesterday, Rick Santorum seems to have a depth and breadth problem. He’s literally a social issues pitbull who latches onto red meat and won’t let go. Santorum spent 12 years in the Senate, frequently taking to the Floor of the upper chamber with charts on partial-birth abortions and somehow finding time to decry gays as deviants. Ask any Senate staffer, Republican or Democratic, and they’ll tell you the same thing about the former Senator: Santorum was a one-trick pony and his presidential race has barely veered from that playbook. To his credit, he has been calling attention to “Obamacare,” describing it as the end of our liberty and declaring this as THE issue that made him run for President. So Santorum’s focus seems to parry back and forth between our health, our abortions, and my unrealized gay marriage.
This plays very well with the GOP base, specifically self-described evangelicals and christian conservatives. But in the end, does the average American who’s concerned about the cost of sending their kids to college? When an average American is standing at the gas pump, is he/she thinking about whether or not gay people can get married? When a 40-something mom is tooling through the grocery store stuffing Cheerios into her toddler’s mouth and telling her other two kids “No, you can’t have that cereal. It’s all sugar”, is she thinking about images of partial birth abortions? The answer to all of these is no. No they aren’t. Every single one of these “average Americans” is thinking about money, about how much that full cart of groceries is going to cost or whether or not to fill up the tank or just stop at $35. Don’t get me wrong. There is a wide swath of Americans who care about social issues. I’m from the South and believe me, they exist. And conservatives don’t just live in the South. While many states have progressive urban areas, they all have rural populations that consistently vote Republican.
The voters I tend to focus on are women. So let’s dive down into yesterday’s numbers and see what women did on Super Tuesday.
Romney won by three points with women. Only 21 percent of voters yesterday self-identified as “working women” and of those, Romney led by eight points over Santorum. Romney’s lead with unmarried women was a whopping 17 percent. That’s huge. But the most important number here is that three percent of all women. Without those votes, Santorum would’ve won Ohio. Which GOP candidate stayed away from social issues? Mitt Romney. And who made contraception and abortion and other social issues the lynchpin of his campaign in the Buckeye state? Rick Santorum. I’m thinking the fat lady sang yesterday and she wasn’t happy with Mr. Santorum.
While men in the GOP primaries outnumber women, the general election is a different matter. In 2008, almost 10 million more women voted than men. Pair that stat with the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing an 18-point gap of women favoring President Obama over Governor Romney and the GOP has a woman problem. At some point, Romney is going to get dragged into the issue. He’s been very lucky in that Santorum has taken up all the space on this and specifically the Rush Limbaugh debacle. But frankly, Romney’s one-liner on Limbaugh isn’t going to suffice and we in the press should demand more from him.
What else did we learn last night? Evangelical voters flocked to Santorum. Over 70 percent of voters in Tennessee and Oklahoma identified yesterday as evangelicals and Santorum won both states. How did Romney do with this group in Ohio? Santorum beat him by a 16-point margin. That’s a drumming folks and it doesn’t bode well nationally in November for likely nominee Romney. I’m not suggesting President Obama is going to win evangelicals in November. I am suggesting if Romney is the nominee, that group will have to either vote for someone who doesn’t share their values or stay home. I’m betting they stay home at this point.
I have said over and over again that tea party movement folks just don’t like Romney. And true to form, Romney lost Ohio voters who strongly support or identify as tea party folks by nine points. This isn’t a huge number but combine that with evangelicals and his lack of support by “strongly conservative” voters, Romney has some serious flaws as a candidate.
So let’s look forward. Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi are the next primary contests and I don’t think Governor Romney is going to carry any of these three very conservative states. Romney won this morning what he needed to win but can he limp into April with no wins and still be considered the frontrunner? Does he make a play for these three conservative states by tacking even more to the right? I’m willing to bet the White House hopes so and frankly I’d bet Santorum does too.
I don’t know of a single legitimate Republican who thinks this primary process has been healthy for the party or good for choosing the best candidate to beat Barack Obama in the fall. Super Tuesday’s results prove that and if we get to June with a divided Republican electorate, my friends on the political right will be running around like chickens with their heads cut off to fix the problem.