With Newt Gingrich suspending his campaign last week and Rick Santorum’s presidential effort a distant memory, Mitt Romney is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Both parties have started acting as though the primary campaign has reached its conclusion, and the only person who seems to remember that Ron Paul is still running a debtless campaign is Ron Paul.
Despite that campaign coverage has now shifted to discussion of a possible running mate for Romney, the Republican Party may have bigger fish to fry.
Mitt Romney appears to have clinched the Republican nomination, and done so with little real competition. According the a New York Times count, Romney has won 847 delegates, with Rick Santorum as his closest competitor with a comparatively insignificant 259 delegates.
Newt Gingrich is expected to officially end it this Wednesday. According to Fox News, Gingrich is considering endorsing Romney, which would make a challenger even less likely. The official nominating convention will not take place until August, but it seems likely that full-scale campaigning will start long before that.
Current Gallup polling shows that President Obama and Romney are essentially in a dead heat. When asked who they would vote for if the election were held today, 47 percent of respondents favored Obama and 46 percent indicated they would vote for Romney.
Of course, as anyone who remembers the 2000 election knows, the percentage of voters who choose each candidate is of little importance. In 2008, Obama won a slim majority of the popular vote, with 51 percent, but he won 67 percent of the electoral votes. What will be important for Romney will not be his ability to convince a majority of Americans to vote for him; it will be convincing a majority the residents of key states to swing his way.
Swing states like Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan (among others) are crucial to presidential campaigns. While it is far too early to say who will win those states – they are often in contention even in the final hours of presidential campaigns – Romney’s primary performance does not inspire confidence. Romney won four of those five states in the Republican primary, losing Colorado to a trending Rick Santorum in February. In the 2008 general election, however, Barack Obama won all five of those swing states. It is unclear if Romney will be able to repeat his primary victories when he faces Obama.
Mitt Romney is easily the most moderate person who ran in this year’s Republican presidential primary. His ability to win swing states over men who hold polarizing views on everything from women’s rights to religion’s role in government is hardly a feat. While he was busy courting moderates, however, Romney has almost totally failed to energize the conservative Republican base. His middling rhetoric and his track record as Governor of perpetually liberal Massachusetts – not to mention his shockingly bland personality and occasional accidental mentions of his massive personal wealth – have alienated him from the religious conservative base that has been crucial to the rise of the Republican party in the 20th century.
Of the 21 states that went red in 2008 that have held republican primaries in 2012, thirteen have held primaries. Romney has won just four of those states, none of them in the traditional Republican stronghold in the Bible Belt. Without the ability to get voters excited about his campaign, Romney may not be able to hold his own in swing states as an untested, slightly more conservative version of President Obama.
Perhaps more importantly, many swing states are located in the industrial Midwest where social conservatism meets a strong labor presence. Romney has been openly hostile towards unions, and has famously stated (and re-stated) that he believes the American auto industry should have been allowed to go bankrupt rather than allow it to accept government funds. In Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, manufacturing is still a crucial part of the economy.
The Midwest lost hundreds of thousands of jobs to the prolonged auto crisis, and is unlikely to take kindly to hearing that they should have lost hundreds of thousands more. Obama seems to have caught on to this. He has been touting successes in the manufacturing sector as one of the main victories of his first term since he opened his 2012 State of the Union address with praise for the American auto industry’s apparent turnaround.
Romney may stand more of a chance in Florida, especially if he chooses rising star and Florida senator Marco Rubio as his running mate, but without the industrial swing states and with little momentum behind the conservative base, the 2012 election could be an uphill battle for the Romney campaign.