Why Romney Should Shift Gears in Presidential Race
The results of Super Tuesday voting mean that if a candidate isn't named Mitt Romney, he can't win the Republican presidential nomination without the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.
But the results also mean that Romney will continue being a punching bag for the other candidates and for voters who aren't sold on the former Massachusetts governor's credentials as a conservative.
By winning Tennessee and a couple of other states and coming so close in Ohio, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has firmed up his role as the not-Romney candidate. Still, he's strapped for cash and has a weak organization that didn't get him on the Virginia ballot and didn't file full delegate slates in Ohio. And he's way behind Romney in the delegate count.
The best thing that could happen to Santorum is for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to bow to reality and return to the speech-making and consulting circles. That would allow the Romney critics to unite behind one candidate and focus on him rather than fighting with each other about who's best qualified to be Romney's main challenger.
There's no chance of that happening anytime soon. By winning in his home state, Georgia, Gingrich has kept alive his win-the-South strategy. The odds against him are long and the delegate-rich targets are few, but he marches on.
So the race continues, more like an episode of Survivor than a presidential election -- except no one is getting voted off the island.
That's bad news for Romney, as well as for Republicans running for the House, Senate or other offices in November. He'll still win the GOP nomination -- eventually. But, like a playoff team that has to pull out all the stops to beat a pesky lesser team in one round and then has nothing left for the championship, a pushed-to-the-limits Romney may have trouble rallying against President Obama.
Romney would help himself -- and his party -- if he started laying out a detailed economic plan and spent time reminding voters that though the numbers say the recession is over, it doesn't feel that way in many parts of the country.
He should remind voters every single day that the unemployment rate remains high and that gasoline prices are heading toward a record. Not that a president can do much about gas prices, but folks paying $4 a gallon or more are going to feel less rosy about the overall economy.
Every day Romney spends trying to outrun Santorum and Gingrich -- not to mention the GOP's gadfly in chief, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas -- is one less day he and other Republicans have to zero in on the economy. It's the most important issue for Republican voters in the primary season, and it will be the central issue for all voters in the fall. It's the one issue that can send Obama into early retirement, but Republicans just aren't talking about it.
Every day Romney tries to prove he's as conservative as the other candidate, he digs himself a little deeper into a hole with independents and moderates, who hold the key to winning in November. Many of the words he says now to sell himself to the right are words that make it less likely that enough independents will move his way in the fall. And make no mistake, Republicans can't elect a president without a lot of help from voters outside their party. The math just doesn't work.
And every day he spends focusing on Santorum is another chance for Obama to define himself, raise more money and rest up for the big race ahead.
Romney is the inevitable GOP nominee. He needs to start acting that way.