The Republican presidential contest took yet another unexpected turn last night with Rick Santorum’s sweep of the Missouri primary and Minnesota and Colorado caucuses.  While Romney spent little time or money in these states compared to Florida and South Carolina, the results showed the continued weakness in the Romney campaign.

Since these contests were essentially beauty contests with no delegates being awarded, the losses still had to sting for Romney who is the front-runner that can’t seal the deal.

To be honest Romney wasn’t expected to really win Missouri or Minnesota with their strong Evangelical bases, but he was hoping to score a victory in Colorado, but was undone by the delegates lack of confidence in his conservatism.

In the grand scheme of things this is more of a PR hit for Romney than anything else, but it leaves open the question of why he can’t get Republican voters to coalesce behind his candidacy. On the other hand it also continues to keep both Santorum and Gingrich in the race as we head to Super Tuesday on March 6 and what will probably be the make or break time for the GOP.

Even if Romney wins a majority of the delegates next month, it is also likely that Gingrich and Santorum to a lesser degree will come away with enough delegates to remain a threat to Romney’s chances of winning the nomination outright.

Romney may be a successful businessman, but he has failed to translate that success into the teflon candidate he needs to be.  Unforced errors have provided plenty of ammunition for not just his Republican competition, but also the Democrats.

Will a long drawn out campaign hurt the GOP?  Not necessarily as the nominee should emerge as a more battle-hardened candidate and be better able to go toe-to-toe with Obama in the fall.  At the same time the nastier the battle gets, the higher the likelihood that the Republican nominee will emerge so bloodied and bruised that he won’t have the ability to compete against what no doubt will be a very powerful Democratic machine that will go all out to keep Obama in the White House.

The GOP’s biggest problem right now though is a slowly recovering economy that is giving Obama a boost as consumer confidence grows that things have actually turned around.

We may still have unemployment above 8% and growth of less than 2%, but voters cast their ballots on perception rather than reality and if the perception is that things are turning around, the Obama will gain the upper hand in November.

Four years ago Romney was the anti-McCain and benefited greatly from that position even if he didn’t win the nomination.  Now he he is the John McCain of 2012 and conservatives just can’t bring themselves to support someone who has a very moderate record as a politician, no matter if he is espousing a more conservative view today.

Like McCain who beat off the Romney challenge four years ago, Romney should be able to fend off Gingrich and Santorum  as his money and organization should carry the day though the road ahead will be bumpy for at least the next four weeks.

 

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