The Fox exit polling reveals some additional good news for John McCain. He tied Romney with 33 percent among those who called themselves Republicans. (There’s a little confusion over this, because the primary was open only to people who registered as Republicans. Every vote McCain received was a Republican vote by the most basic definition. However, some of those who registered and voted as Republicans described themselves as independents to exit pollsters.)
He beat Romney 40-32 among those whose top issue was the economy and he won among evangelicals 30 to 29 (Romney and Huckabee both got 29). McCain won by a wide margin among Cubans and other Hispanics. The more complete data provided by CNN shows that McCain won among those who are “somewhat conservative,” although not among those who are “very conservative.” McCain won narrowly with voters under 65 and by a large margin with those over 65. In short, it was an impressive and broad based win that shows some fundamental strength in McCain’s appeal across different segments of the party.
Mitt Romney obviously spent some time poring over the exit polls as well and did not find much to cheer him up. He appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show and seemed a bit Bob Dole-ish (“stop lying about my record,” Bob Dole said bitterly on primary night 1988 in New Hampshire when asked by Tom Brokaw what he would say to George Bush, who had just won). Romney spent most of the show complaining about hostile recorded phone messages paid for by the McCain campaign. Not only does this seem to be a case of sour grapes, but it is a bit cheeky for a guy who had a TV ad advantage of 10 to 1 over his opponent to complain about some robo-calls.
On more substantive matters, two things were of interest. First, Romney is genuinely peeved about the accusation that in an April 2007 Good Morning America interview he spoke out in favor of a secret timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. The problem for Romney is that he can spend the next week talking about this, but that will open up the entire issue of his cagey position on the surge and highlight McCain’s strongest issue to the conservative base.
Second, he expressed puzzlement at the exit polling showing he lost on the issue of the economy to McCain. He did not have a good answer to this troubling phenomenon, but it could hardly have come as a surprise, since he lost to McCain on this issue in New Hampshire as well. In general, Romney did not sound like he was entirely confident he could turn this around, acknowledging McCain is “in a good position” and “we will see where the process takes us forward.” It is not easy to figure out how he might slow down McCain, but this was not was not a promising start for his supporters.