With polls showing Rick Santorum leading in Ohio, Mitt Romney has no time for a breather after his win last night. His challenge now is to keep up the bruising attacks on Santorum, while avoiding the same gaffes about his personal wealth that hurt him in Michigan:
Like Michigan, Ohio’s economy relies heavily on the auto industry, and Romney’s high-profile opposition of the government bailout of the industry is not likely to be received warmly by many voters. He supported an effort last year by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) to restrict public unions’ collective-bargaining rights — an effort that was overwhelmingly overturned in the fall by voters in this union-heavy state. And Romney’s courtship of religious voters by supporting, for instance, an antiabortion “personhood initiative,” risks alienating female voters. …
Perhaps more than anything else, however, Romney’s difficulty connecting with average Americans may hurt him in a state such as Ohio. Romney acknowledged on Tuesday that his gaffes — including mentioning his wife’s “couple of Cadillacs” — have not been helpful to his cause. Republicans in Ohio agreed.
With each victory, Romney has become a weaker general election candidate. He’s unlikely to be attacked for his support for the “personhood initiative” in Ohio, especially because Santorum holds stronger views by comparison. But if he’s goaded into a game of one-upmanship with Santorum on the issue, he could turn off independent voters. Beyond that, Romney’s opponents – both in the GOP field and in the Democratic Party – will jump on any comment that relates to his personal wealth or makes him sound out-of-touch with average voters.
Despite Romney’s weakened status, he’s still arguably the most electable out of the field, and that remains one of his strongest arguments for the nomination. He touched on that in a new ad today, which includes interviews with Democrats who voted for Santorum because they say he’ll be the “weakest” candidate against Obama. This is the point Romney needs to hammer home. If he can quickly convince GOP voters that Santorum is a less viable general election candidate, he’ll be able to stop his own blood loss in the primaries before it does permanent damage.