From now on, Romney’s home field edge is gone
Mitt Romney’s home stand is over. If the former Massachusetts governor is to win the Republican presidential nomination, he is going to have to do it outside the friendly confines that the primary calendar put at the top of the schedule.
Romney, who leads in delegates won so far, enters Tuesday’s crucial Florida primary as the candidate with perhaps the best chance to stop Arizona Sen. John McCain from winning the GOP nomination.
McCain, victor in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries and the leader in national polls, is the Republican front-runner, albeit a tenuous one.
Should he win Florida, where he is slightly ahead in what has been statistically a four-candidate dead heat, he would be in position to claim the nomination when 22 states go to the polls Feb. 5, which has become known as “Super Duper Tuesday.”
Romney is the best-positioned of the candidates to stop McCain because of his wins in the Michigan primary and the Wyoming and Nevada caucuses, as well as his second-place showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Mike Huckabee’s loss to McCain in South Carolina calls the former Arkansas governor’s chances for the nomination into question. After all, if Huckabee can’t win a Southern state such as South Carolina, where evangelical Christians—Huckabee’s base—represented 60 percent of the primary voters, how can he compete in other regions with smaller numbers of born-again voters?
The other candidate in the four-way dead heat in the Florida polls is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has yet to finish better than fourth in any contest. Giuliani has said Florida is his make-or-break state, but his poll numbers have been steadily declining.
But for Romney to win the nomination, he will have to win state contests much less hospitable to his candidacy than the ones held so far.
Michigan was Romney’s birthplace, a state where his father was a former governor. Not incidentally, the state’s economy is perhaps the sickest in the country, and Romney’s message of a government bailout—although wholly inconsistent with his claims to be the real conservative in the race—had a receptive audience.
He won caucuses in Wyoming and Nevada but had little competition in either contest because the other candidates spent their time and money elsewhere. Moreover, Nevada has a substantial Mormon population, which is true of only a couple of other states. Romney is a Mormon, and his religion is thought to be a detriment in some places.
His “silver medals” in Iowa and New Hampshire came after spending countless days, and many millions of dollars, building personal relationships among voters there. That is not possible in the orgy of coming contests. In both states, he was leading in the polls and lost when the votes were counted.
That was especially ominous in New Hampshire, his neighboring state, where he had once held a large lead.
Although Romney’s massive personal wealth will allow him to continue running regardless of the voting results, most of the coming contests are not in states where he has any built-in geographic or demographic edge.
An indication of the rough road that Romney might face is his fourth-place finish in South Carolina, where he left the state in the final days before the voting to try to argue he hadn’t competed there. But the truth is he plunked down $4 million in TV commercials and staff—more than any other candidate—and spent more than 20 days there campaigning.
Florida and the Feb. 5 states might not offer a friendlier environment. McCain’s superior name recognition and polls showing him to be by far the most competitive GOP candidate in November against the Democrats give him a big edge.
The one saving grace for Romney, however, is that most of those coming elections allow only Republicans to vote in the GOP primaries. That’s unlike most of the previous contests, in which McCain benefited from rules allowing independents—and in some cases, Democrats—to vote.
Romney is certainly still alive in the nomination fight, but unlike in the early primaries and caucuses, in which he enjoyed varying degrees of a home-field advantage, he’s going to have to win it on the road.
Peter A. Brown is the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute; his e-mail address is peter.brownquinnipiac.edu. This article first appeared on Politico.com.