Republicans are sure having a hard time picking a nominee
So it’s looking more and more like Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee for the presidential race. He won, for all intents and purposes, Iowa and handily defeated Ron Paul in New Hampshire. He’s leading the in the polls in South Carolina, although the latest poll shows him only two points ahead of Newt Gingrich. Florida has him with a double digit lead ahead of Gingrich, something that will only increase if he wins South Carolina. But is he really the nominee the Republicans want for 2012? More importantly, if he’s not will they hold their nose and vote for him in the general election in November just to get rid of Obama? Maybe this presidential race is a signal to bigger issues within the Republican Party that they don’t want admit.
Looking at the latest poll for South Carolina conducted by Insider Advantage Romney leads the pack with 23% of the vote compared to Gingrich at 21%. Santorum has 14%, Paul follows with 13%, Huntsman with 7%, and Perry trails the pack with 5%. 15% have no opinion on the race at this point so there’s some opportunity for Gingrich to take the lead and win SC next Saturday, a victory he desperately needs if he expects to carry his campaign to the end. However, I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in Insider Advantage polls. They aren’t the most reliable and come in pretty much at the bottom of Nate Silver’s poll ratings.
The challenge for conservatives
There’s still some play at hand in South Carolina before the primary election. Conservatives are having a hard time picking a leader in their segment of the party, fracturing between Gingrich, Santorum, and Perry (yea, even though he’s at the bottom he’s still drawing votes). This weekend evangelical leaders are planning a meeting at the ranch of Paul and Nancy Pressler in Brenham, TX in an effort “to unite and come to a consensus on which Republican presidential candidate to support or which not to support” according to the invitation.
Some of the leaders include Gingrich supporter Don Wildmon, former chairman of the American Family Association, and Santorum supporter Gary Bauer, a former presidential candidate. This is in an attempt to solidify behind a single candidate in an effort to stop the Romney train from getting cruising speed to the nomination. The problem is that while the group may coalesce behind a single candidate, until the other two drop out it’s just an endorsement with very little teeth. Evangelicals typically have a strong moral opinion and don’t listen to political reason when it comes to elections.
Florida and beyond
Looking at the latest Florida poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports, Romney leads that pack with 41% followed by Gingrich at 19%, Santorum at 15%, Paul at 9%, Huntsman at 5%, and Perry trailing the pack at 2%. According to the poll “Romney is viewed favorably by 76% of likely Florida Republican primary voters, followed by Santorum at 61%, Gingrich at 59%, Perry at 43%, Huntsman at 34% and Paul at 33%.” 41% of the voters can still be swayed so there’s some play in the poll but not if Romney wins South Carolina. That margin will only go up even if he pulls only a single digit victory margin in South Carolina.
Where this becomes very interesting is at the national level. A few other polls by Rasmussen provide some deeper insight into the general election against Obama. If the election were between Obama and Romney today, Obama would win 44-41. If Obama were running against a generic Republican, he would lose 47-43. That says Republican are probably nominating the wrong candidate to win in November. However, unless a new candidate emerges outside the field in time to compete in FL this race is all but locked up for Romney should he win FL. There is no chance even a strong competitor could ramp a campaign up, including finances, to be competitive with the existing Romney campaign and his Super PAC.
The Tea Party and Jim DeMint
Today the NY Times ran a very interesting in-depth article by Matt Bai about the South Carolina Tea Party and its challenges going into this primary election. Bai notes that the Tea Party is having the same issues evangelicals are in locking behind a single candidate. “The problem is that they’ve had a hard time settling on any obvious alternative to Romney, in a way that might transform the primary into a clear, binary choice,” said Bai in the article.
One unifying force that might pull the Tea Party together would be an endorsement by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) who is often credited as one of the founding fathers of the movement. However, DeMint has refused to stand behind one candidate at this point other than not endorsing Romney like he did four years. This is possibly to avoid giving the Romney campaign ammunition to use against an endorsed challenger since not only did DeMint endorse Romney but he also praised Romney’s health care plan in 2007. DeMint’s prior support has backed him into a corner he can’t get out of.
Bain Capital and “Vulture Capitalism”
The other issue facing Republicans has been the attacks on Romney’s involvement in Bain Capital which seems to be at odds with a typical pro-business stance by Republicans. Gingrich has been the biggest attacker of Romney through ads produced by his Super PAC but Perry has also joined the attack, labeling the business approach as “vulture capitalism.” Most are seeing these attacks for what they are; desperate attempts to gain an advantage against a campaign that is almost unstoppable.
All this infighting is surfacing issues that have developed within the Republican Party as it struggles to find its identity and still maintain a big tent approach for social conservatives, tea party supporters, and libertarians. As this primary season rolls on and candidates like Ron Paul remain in the race, these issues will most likely come to a head at the national convention in Tampa, most likely in the Platform Committee. In the meantime, Obama continues to rake in the money, heading toward a fundraising target of over $1 billion, a rumor flatly denied by the Obama campaign.