Santorum to Romney and Gingrich: Kiss My Grits

by Wendy Simmons | March 14, 2012 8:35 am

Delivering major psychological blows to Mitt Romney’s campaign and Newt Gingrich’s ego, Rick Santorum won the GOP primaries in Alabama and Mississippi yesterday. Although Santorum’s victory in the Bible Belt has been foreshadowed for months (he has enjoyed strong support from white evangelicals and working-class voters, both of whom constitute a large part of the electorate in those states), Georgian Newt Gingrich had expected to win handily in his own backyard.

The results:

Alabama
Santorum (35%), Gingrich (29%), Romney (29%), Paul (4%)

Mississippi
Santorum (33%), Gingrich (31%), Romney (30%), Paul (4%)

What to conclude?

1)  Money can’t buy love. Or votes. Romney’s campaign and affiliated super-PACS outspent his rivals by a 5-1 margin in Alabama and 3-1 in Mississippi. Despite his overwhelming cash advantage, Romney couldn’t win a plurality of voters in these deeply red states.

Much ado has been rightly made about the unprecedented amounts of cash that have and will be poured into election 2012, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen United. However, the close results in Ohio last week and the South this week suggest that everyone may all be overestimating the ability of campaign spending to determine victory.

2)  Negative advertising may not always work after all. The conventional wisdom among political scientists and strategists alike has long been that negative advertising, no matter how distasteful to the public, has been effective. According to exit polls, almost 80% of voters in Alabama said ads were a factor in their vote.

Given the Romney campaign’s massive negative ad dumps across the airwaves in these primary states, maybe voters are actually starting to turn on the ads’ perpetrators, rather than their victims.

3)  Newt Gingrich’s ego is undefeatable. Although Gingrich should get out of the race altogether and let Romney and Santorum battle it out through the rest of the process, he’s clearly still hoping for a brokered convention[1] in which he emerges victorious. His non-concession speech on Tuesday was a blend of “2nd place is not bad,” “delegate math” and “we’re taking this all the way to Tampa” (site of the GOP convention).

Gingrich showed no sign of being humbled by losses in what should have been easy states for him to win. Mathematically, Gingrich’s obstinacy only helps Romney win the nomination. By splitting the non-Romney vote with Santorum, he’s helping the frontrunner limp along to the convention.

4)  The longer this primary campaign goes on, the better it is for Barack Obama. Although many in the Republican establishment argue that the lengthy primary season is helping to strengthen the party’s eventual nominee and his organization in the general election, existing trends don’t confirm that theory. Turnout among GOP primary voters continues to be depressed. It’s reasonable to assume that the longer the GOP’s primary season battle lasts, the more excited primary voters would be to participate in the process.

However, early results suggest that turnout was lower than expected in Alabama and Mississippi. Thus, the long primary trail seems to be wearing down Republican voters, not galvanizing them. Romney will be forced to continue to appeal to the party’s most conservative wing and face off yet again with Santorum, Gingrich and Ron Paul in a televised debate, presumably. Obama can continue to walk the high road.

Mitt Romney told CNN in an interview on Tuesday that Santorum’s campaign was coming to a “desperate end.” That conclusion is premature at best. Thanks to the voters in Alabama and Mississippi, we’re in this for the long haul.

Endnotes:
  1. brokered convention: http://investorplace.com/investorpolitics/after-super-tuesday-a-brokered-gop-convention/

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