Mitt Romney still can’t close the deal with GOP primary voters.
It feels like I’ve been writing this same line over and over the past few months. Last night on Southern Tuesday, Mississippi and Alabama cast votes for their Republican nominee. Rick Santorum came out on top in both contests. Newt Gingrich (who overperforms in the southern states) came in second. And Mitt Romney, third in both states.
At this stage in the game, 27 states have voted. Mitt Romney has been considered the frontrunner the entire time — with a few moments of weakness when other candidates surged ahead temporarily, but he has significantly more money and his SuperPAC floods the airwaves in each state with negative ads attacking opponents. However, his tidal wave of negativity doesn’t seem to be working in his favor.
But what matters more than the narrative at this point is the number of delegates. 1,144 is the number to remember — the number of delegates the GOP nominee needs to clinch the nomination. Even with his losses last night, Romney was able to pick up 9 delegates early today with a win in the Hawaii caucuses. (I guess Hawaii is a part of American when it’s not considered the birthplace of President Obama, huh?) But they still can hurt Romney’s chances of making it to the magic number of 1,144 in time for the Republican convention. Yes, Romney is still the favorite, but at this point it’s all about the numbers.
Another problem for Romney that will likely hurt him down the road is that as the Republican primary fight goes on, he is forced further and further right politically. Just yesterday, he assured that he would “get rid of” Planned Parenthood. This coming from a man who’s wife Ann Romney, gave money to the organization and who himself courted Planned Parenthood’s endorsement during his run for Massachusetts governor. The Romney camp might want to come out quickly to smooth the waters, because a statement like this is sure to add fuel to the already brightly burning contraception fight. In short, Romney can’t afford to jump in the middle of it when he’s losing primaries and clinging to delegate counts.
But when you’re competing with someone as radical and far right as Rick Santorum, you’re forced to stake out positions that will prove poisonous in the general election. Should Romney make it past the primary, he will certainly have a lot to answer for.