After months of the press convulsing over who would emerge as the conservative alternative to “Massachusetts Moderate” Mitt Romney — Michele Bachmann! Rick Perry! Herman Cain! Newt Gingrich! — it appears that the narrative for the race for the Republican nomination has finally settled.
It’s Rick versus Mitt.
Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, solidified his position as the anti-Romney by winning Alabama and Mississippi, thwarting Gingrich’s “Southern strategy.”
Unfortunately for Santorum, there appears to be no easy road to the nomination. As the Romney camp has pointed out, Santorum would have to win 69 percent of the remaining delegates to reach the magic number of 1,144 delegates.
Santorum’s lack of a quality campaign organization makes this much more difficult. Santorum only lost Ohio by less than a percentage point, and because that state awards its delegates proportionally, he stood to gain a hefty amount. However, his campaign’s failures in the state resulted in him losing many of the delegates he otherwise would have won.
In the meantime, Romney keeps plodding along, winning the most delegates yet lacking in enthusiasm. Lost in the shuffle of Tuesday night’s elections is that Romney, even though he finished third in both Alabama and Mississippi, garnered the night’s most delegates, by virtue of winning the caucuses in Hawaii and American Samoa.
This strategy of Romney’s, however, conveys his principal weakness as a candidate.
Perhaps the funniest tweet of the night came from former Obama adviser David Axelrod: “You know what they say: as America Samoa goes, so goes the nation!”
Romney has shown, repeatedly, that he just cannot rein in the votes of the conservative base. His awkwardness is legion. Santorum, for all of his apparent need to express controversial opinions, is by far the more natural campaigner of the two. Romney, says Rich Lowry, is the “candidate of ‘eh.’”
However, this need not be the liability it appears to be for Romney. The “delegate lock message is a big mistake for Romney,” tweeted Republican political consultant Mike Murphy. “Dump it.”
This seems like wise advice.
While Romney trumpeting his superior delegate count, what he should be trumpeting is his superior vote count: He has more than one million more votes than Santorum does.
This is the way forward for Romney. Nobody cares that Romney has more delegates than Santorum at this point: It only makes Romney seem like more of an establishment insider. Romney should simply say that he is the candidate of the majority of Republicans.
It isn’t flashy, but it is something.
Santorum, however, has taken his campaign further than anyone outside perhaps his family could have ever imagined. Only six short years ago, Santorum, as the incumbent senator, lost his Pennsylvania Senate seat in a landslide. He was stuck at the bottom of most polls until his surprise surge in Iowa. He has even captured the Southern evangelical vote, a surprise historically, given that he is a Catholic Northeasterner.
Santorum’s only hope for the nomination, however, is a brokered convention. And it’s a dim one at that.
All Romney has to do to win the nomination is continue slogging through the primaries as he has: winning a majority of votes in his strongholds in the West and Northeast, winning a plurality in the Midwest and continuing his pace in the South. This seems highly probable. A brokered convention, on the other hand, is highly unlikely.
The reality is, the race is not very close. Romney has more than double the delegates as Santorum, and the former governor’s organizational strength and fundraising prowess gives him a huge advantage.
And even if there was a brokered convention, it’s not at all certain that Santorum, or any of the declared candidates, would reap the benefits. It seems to be the wet dream of some Beltway conservatives that a brokered convention would allow a “better” Republican, like Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie, to garner the nomination, a la Hubert Humphrey for the Democrats in 1968.
Republicans, it seems, are stuck with Romney. Whether that will mean victory against Barack Obama remains to be seen.
Tony Petersen is the opinion editor of The Collegian. Follow him on Twitter @tonypetersen4.