Today is Super Tuesday, the biggest event thus far in the Presidential race, with more delegates at stake for the GOP candidates than any other primary or caucus to date. Mitt Romney was supposed to have the nomination locked up by now; instead, as today’s Wall Street Journal points out, he’s more like the Rodney Dangerfield of politics: he just can’t get no respect. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still convinced it’s Romney vs. Obama in November – but after months of campaigning, the enthusiasm gap that’s evident only favors the incumbent President.
Romney will likely have a strong showing today in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia, where he has only Rep. Ron Paul as competition. But the biggest delegate yields are in Ohio (63 delegates), Tennessee (55), and Oklahoma (40), where Rick Santorum has a strong lead. In Georgia, Gingrich’s home state, there are 76 delegates at stake. None of these contests are winner-take-all — each candidate has the opportunity to compete for delegates in parts of each state where they are strong.
Today’s new Journal/NBC News poll shows the primary process has worn away the overall enthusiasm edge that Republicans, desperate to oust President Obama, were supposed to have:
The new survey shows that both parties’ registered voters are virtually even in members expressing great interest in the election — and the share of Republicans excited about the race has dropped 10 percentage points since January. The big concern for Romney has to be the trend line on the independents, who are being turned off by the renewed culture war ignited by Santorum, Gingrich, and the right wing of the party. Weeks of gunfights on birth control, pre-abortion invasive ultrasounds in Virginia, gay marriage, whether the President is a “snob” for wanting Americans to have the opportunity to go to college, and anything-but-the-economy shows that 40 percent of American adults think less of the party after watching its transformation this electoral season — especially independent women.
Driven by an intensifying ideological purity test that brings to mind a white, working-class, ultra-religious “American Taliban” (as the Journal points out, Democrats don’t require their presidential candidates to declare repeatedly that they are liberals, thereby pushing themselves away from the center of the political spectrum), the GOP has come to stand for “God’s Own Party” in these last few months, and likely voters are tuning out as a result. A notable casualty: centrist Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine decided not to run this week after all — a big loss for her party, both for her deal-making skills and the likelihood her seat will go to an Independent, popular former Governor Angus King.
As the Journal pointed out today, “Mr. Romney has a tough job, for the Republican party is a hard one to lead right now. Any party that is trying to simultaneously win over Wall Street money managers and the tea-party movement, and to win Hispanic votes while championing the tough immigration laws of Arizona and Alabama, has laid out a tough task indeed…So Mr. Romney would have to raise sagging numbers among independents, light a fire beneath an underenergized party base and confront a president whose approval ratings are moving higher.”
Not a pretty picture for the GOP, and with every day the Republicans’ internecine and cultural warfare continues, the further victory drifts from their grasp. The big question to my mind now is whether the renewed culture war from the far right has cost the GOP not only the White House, but the US Senate as well…and with it, any prospect of stopping health reform before it launches in 2014.