Despite the hand-wringing in Republican circles about the current frontrunners, both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are still statistically tied with President Obama in a general election matchup, according to a Gallup poll out today. Romney leads Obama, 50 percent to 46 percent, while Obama leads Santorum, 49 percent to 48 percent. Both matchups are within the margin of error.
The poll indicates that the brutal primary battle between Romney and Santorum hasn’t noticeably hurt either candidate with general election voters. In fact, the Romney-Obama matchup numbers have been remarkably stable since August, while Santorum’s have improved considerably. This is despite the fact that Obama’s approval ratings on the economy have been creeping upward recently:
This past week, the Mormon Church, and Mitt Romney, came under fire when it was discovered that the parents of Simon Wiesenthal were proxy-baptized by the Church. In 1995, the Church of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church, outlawed the baptisms of anyone outside of their members’ ancestors in response to outrage over their baptisms of Holocaust victims (which Wiesenthal’s parents were). In an apologetic statement released after the Wiesenthal baptisms became known, the Church explained that a rogue member had submitted the names without the knowledge or consent of leadership and that there would be action taken to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
Immediately after the baptisms hit the headlines calls came for Romney to condemn the action, from Elie Wiesel to top leadership of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, pushing the story onto front pages. Given that the Church had already officially prohibited the baptisms of Holocaust victims, there was little for Romney to do but condemn his own Church, publicly, with no chance of accomplishing anything but further embarrassing his faith.
The Romney campaign is now turning its attacks on the GOP candidate, Rick Santorum, who poses a greater threat to the former Massachusetts governor than any so far. Will it work? Perhaps, though I doubt it will work as well as the attacks on Newt Gingrich. The criticisms of the former House speaker succeeded because they seemed to conform to reality, with Gingrich himself confirming concerns about his emotional state and erratic style. It won’t be as easy to portray Santorum as a faux conservative, especially when the charge is being leveled by Romney, who has his own history of deviations from conservative orthodoxy. There’s also a chance Romney’s tactics will begin to backfire (which is what the Santorum campaign is hoping for in putting out this ad).
At some point, though, Romney has to begin making an (effective) affirmative case for his nomination. That remains his chief weakness so far – the inability to tie his campaign to a great cause. Right now, Governor Romney’s reflex is to rely on his biography, to portray himself as a successful businessman, a competent fixer, and a man who has never worked a day in his life in Washington. That simply isn’t enough. Both John McCain and Bob Dole had far more vivid and moving life stories than Romney – and they were wiped out by Bill Clinton in 1996 and Barack Obama in 2008.
Last week, Rasmussen Reports polled likely voters in the swing state of Ohio to gauge how the three GOP candidates matched up against President Obama. Somewhat surprisingly, Rick Santorum polled in a dead heat with Obama and Mitt Romney was slightly edged out by the incumbent president. Can Santorum withstand a full-scale assault on his conservative social values as the GOP frontrunner until the November elections and keep that edge?
Throughout his candidacy, Santorum has made a point to emphasize his pro-life, pro-family platform. He has made controversial comments on gay marriage, the role of women in the military, abortion and contraception which have been, until recently, largely ignored by the media and voters. While the GOP base may not mind his focus on social conservatism, liberals in the news and entertainment media will see his comments as so abhorrent they may take it upon themselves to ensure his campaign is over before it starts.
Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who was a key supporter of Obama in 2008, told WOR710 today that he could not vote for President Obama’s re-election unless the president cuts ties with the controversial anti-Israel group Media Matters. He also warned that Obama’s association with Media Matters – which was raised by the Daily Caller in an investigative series this week – will lose him support in the pro-Israel community:
Let’s have a full and open debate on this, but to the extent that the Obama administration associates with these bigots [at Media Matters], they’re going to lose a lot of support among Christians, Jews and others who think that American support for Israel is in the best interest of the United States…So don’t confuse these bigots with liberals. They’re not. They’re extremists, they’re way, way beyond the pale. And any association with the Obama administration is going to hurt the Obama administration. There is not enough room under the big tent for people like me…and the bigots of Media Matters. The Obama administration is going to have to choose. …
I could not vote for anyone who has anything to do with Media Matters, that’s clear. That’s just clear as can be. I will take an oath here that I will not vote for a candidate that has any direct association with Media Matters. That’s like asking me to vote for Hezbollah or asking me to vote for Hamas or asking me to vote for the Fascist Party. I won’t do it…That association has to stop. Just in the same way that President Obama totally terminated his association with the Reverend Wright, he has to terminate any association with Media Matters and with the intellectual thugs who are behind it.
Newt Gingrich’s arguments for telling Rick Santorum to drop out of the presidential race last month are starting to boomerang on him. The National Review wonders whether it would be better for the Republican Party if Gingrich hung it up and endorsed Santorum:
It is not clear whether Gingrich remains in the race because he still believes he could become president next year or because he wants to avenge his wounded pride: an ambiguity that suggests the problem with him as a leader. When he led Santorum in the polls, he urged the Pennsylvanian to leave the race. On his own arguments the proper course for him now is to endorse Santorum and exit.
President Obama released his annual budget today, and it’s already being blasted by the GOP as chock full of gimmicks and faulty accounting. Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, called the plan “one of the most spectacular fiscal cover-ups in American history.”
According to the Republicans on the committee, it includes $1.9 trillion in new taxes, adds $11 trillion to the debt, and includes a net increase of spending over the current projections. It also falsely claims to cut the debt by $4 trillion but only reduces it by $273 billion, say Republicans:
- It does not count the cost of replacing the $1.2 trillion sequester (spending reduction plus interest savings) required under current law. This is plainly true because the president eliminates the reductions required by the law that he signed and replaces it with tax increases. Then he fails to score the cost of repeal, a monumental deception.
- It counts the inevitable winding down of the war costs in Afghanistan—all of which is borrowed—as $1 trillion in spending reduction; and
- It buries the $522 billion cost of freezing the Medicare physician update in the baseline, without identifying any source of funds to pay for it.
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It seems like every time I declare Mitt Romney to be in the catbird seat, he does everything in his power to disprove me. But last night, the former Massachusetts governor outdid himself, having been swept by Rick Santorum in contests in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado. And it isn’t simply the fact that Romney lost; it’s the magnitude of his losses. Governor Romney finished third in Minnesota with 17 percent of the vote total, behind both Ron Paul (27 percent) and Santorum (45 percent). In Missouri, Romney lost to Santorum by a staggering 30 points (55 percent v. 25 percent). And in Colorado, a state Romney won in 2008 with more than 60 percent of the vote, Santorum bested him by five points (40 percent v. 35 percent).
Conn Carroll of the Washington Examiner points out that in both Missouri and Minnesota, a state Romney won in 2008, he did not win a single county. (There are 114 counties in Missouri.)
Yesterday, there was news the Obama campaign would be starting a Super PAC before the 2012 election. Alana posted about it, stating: “After blasting Super PACs as the source of everything evil in politics for the past two years, the Obama campaign has suddenly done an about face and openly started working with one. But, as Jim Messina stressed on the campaign blog last night, it’s not because Obama wants to. No, it’s because he needs to, in order to win the election. And as we all know, winning is more important anything, especially principles and personal integrity.”
Today, on the Politico website, a poll asked visitors: “What do you think of President Obama’s decision to throw his support behind a Super PAC?” Of the respondents to this incredibly unscientific poll, 59 percent of people thought: “It’s necessary. He can’t win with one arm tied behind his back.”
As Jonathan discussed earlier, today is a big day for the campaign of Rick Santorum. He is in position to possibly win two out of tonight’s three contests. He will also take with him some momentum from the support he has won from conservative media, most notably the recent endorsements from Michelle Malkin and Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey.
Those endorsements are important in part because they help Santorum build a certain narrative: that he can best unite the party. At this point in the process, being the “not-Romney” is less of a draw than it was before Mitt Romney began winning big in the Northeast, South, and West. Luckily for Santorum, Romney has turned his fire on the former Pennsylvania senator, which makes the argument that Santorum is the “not-Romney” without Santorum having to do so himself. Santorum simply doesn’t have the time or money left to build campaign momentum on the claim he belongs in second place. He does have two advantages, however.
The Obama campaign has yet another fundraising scandal to deal with today. This time it’s under fire for selling hideously ugly designer merchandise (seriously, that Beyonce t-shirt looks like something you’d make at day camp) at low, low prices on its website. According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama may be in violation of campaign finance laws for selling these clothes and handbags created for him gratis by celebrities and designers:
Jan Baran, an election lawyer with Wiley Rein LLP, said designers can’t ask employees to work on political projects unless they willingly volunteered their time. “Someone who is paid to do campaign work is not a volunteer,” he said. If the designer or staff are paid by anyone other than the campaign, it would be considered a campaign contribution from a company to a candidate.
The Obama campaign said the gear complies with campaign-finance rules.
“All of the designers volunteered their personal time to create these great designs,” the campaign said, and were “not underwritten with any corporate funds.”
After blasting Super PACs as the source of everything evil in politics for the past two years, the Obama campaign has suddenly done an about face and openly started working with one. But, as Jim Messina stressed on the campaign blog last night, it’s not because Obama wants to. No, it’s because he needs to, in order to win the election. And as we all know, winning is more important anything, especially principles and personal integrity:
With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.
Therefore, the campaign has decided to do what we can, consistent with the law, to support Priorities USA in its effort to counter the weight of the GOP Super PAC. We will do so only in the knowledge and with the expectation that all of its donations will be fully disclosed as required by law to the Federal Election Commission.
With Mitt Romney’s overwhelming victory in Nevada– he won just over 50 percent of the vote –the former Massachusetts governor has secured three double-digit wins in the Northeast (New Hampshire), the West (Nevada), and the South (Florida). He remains in the catbird seat. For him to lose the nomination would require an epic collapse. I rather doubt we’ll see it.
What makes this week marginally interesting is whether Rick Santorum supplants Newt Gingrich as the “conservative alternative” to Romney. That depends on how Santorum does tomorrow in Colorado and Minnesota, the next states that hold GOP nominating contests, as well as Missouri, which holds a “beauty contest” (the state’s official nominating process takes place later in the year). It seems to me, and increasingly to others, that Santorum is a far better figure for conservatives to rally behind than Gingrich, whose weaknesses I have dealt with at length in the past. I’ll only add that at his press conference on Saturday Gingrich looked to be seething with rage for Romney, and he demonstrated, one more time, that he simply doesn’t have the emotional balance and temperamental traits that one looks for in a president. There’s something a bit sad in watching Gingrich, who has done a great deal for the conservative cause in his life, burn up like this.
It’s easy for conservatives to get disappointed when looking at the mess of a GOP field. But then you hear interviews like this one, and think, maybe, just maybe, there’s a glimmer of hope for Republicans:
In a TODAY exclusive, Matt Lauer asked Obama about his supporters’ disappointment over his first-term performance — that they believe he hasn’t been “the transformational political figure they hoped you would be.”
“What’s frustrated people is that I have not be able to force Congress to implement every aspect of what I said in 2008,” he said.
“That’s just the nature of being president,” he said. “It turns out that our founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes.
“What I’m going to just keep on doing is plodding away, very persistent. And you know what? One of the things about being president is you get better as time goes on.”
Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal is a very good writer and a very smart man. But his claim that President Obama’s slimmed down version of his most recent State of the Union address – a speech Obama has taken on the road – is “soaring out in the country” is fairly wide of the mark.
We just learned, for example, that only 36 percent of likely voters grade the Obama administration’s handling of the economy at good or excellent, while a huge number — 62 percent — grade the president at fair to poor, with poor collecting the largest number: 45 percent. Now I recognize that people could like Obama’s speeches and disapprove of his policies. But in the end, they will (unlike 2008) cast their vote based on his deeds rather than his words. And Henninger’s claim that Obama is the “maestro” of the “inner melodies of life in America these days” isn’t something I detect when looking at polling data or, frankly, much else.
1. The reach and scope of Governor Romney’s primary victory in Florida was enormous. He not only defeated Newt Gingrich by more than 14 points, Romney’s total was larger than the combined total of both Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Romney won among men and women; in all age, income, and education categories; among whites and Hispanics; among those who support and oppose the Tea Party; among those who decided early and those who decided late; and among evangelicals. Among the only categories Romney did not carry was those who described themselves “very conservative” (Gingrich carried 41 percent of the vote while Romney took 30 percent). Those who consider themselves “somewhat conservative” went for Romney 52 percent v. 32 percent for Gingrich.
Almost half the voters in Florida (46 percent) said electability was their top concern – and of that group, they preferred the former Massachusetts governor by 26 percentage points. And of the 62 percent of voters who said the economy was the issue that matters most to them, 52 percent went for Romney v. 30 percent for Gingrich.
Last night wasn’t the first time Sarah Palin has beseeched Republicans to vote for Newt Gingrich. But it was the latest step in Palin’s strange Gingrich dance, in which she defends the former speaker, praises him, calls on voters to vote for him – but stops just short of officially endorsing him. The Globe and Mail reports:
There is a curious dance Sarah Palin is doing lately with Newt Gingrich, and it goes something like this: do not formally endorse Mr. Gingrich, but on the eve of key state primaries make an appearance on Fox News TV and deliver what sounds an awful lot like an endorsement.
The former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate did it ahead of the South Carolina primary, saying that if she were a South Carolinian she would ”vote for Newt.” Mr. Gingrich welcomed the lift and credited Ms. Palin’s comments with helping his South Carolina campaign. “She’s an enormous help. She’s a big help in the South Carolina victory,” he told Fox News.
The Gingrich campaign is preemptively blaming his potential loss in Florida on former ally Rick Santorum. Last Saturday, Newt Gingrich noted that Santorum was “young enough” to run in a later election, joking that “next time around is a good battle cry.” And his campaign co-chairman told CNN yesterday that “if [Santorum] weren’t in it, we would clearly be beating Romney right now.”
Today, the former Speaker continued to hammer this message on “Fox and Friends” (via HotAir):
“The longer conservatives stay split, the harder it’s going to be for us to [beat Romney],” Gingrich said on ”Fox and Friends” on Tuesday. “And I think that we risk not being able to beat Obama unless we get a conservative. I have to win the nomination.”
Santorum is sapping conservative votes from Gingrich, the former House Speaker said. Santorum, appearing just moments after Gingrich, countered.
In an intense primary battle, a lot of silly things are said. (Many of them, it turns out, are said by Sarah Palin, who seems intent on confirming every negative thing her critics have said about her.) Among them is the charge, repeated like rounds fired from a machine gun, that opposition to Newt Gingrich is based on those in the “establishment” who fear the scale of change he would bring to Washington. If you’re for Gingrich, so goes this story line, you’re for “genuine” and “fundamental” change. If you oppose Gingrich, on the other hand, you’re for “managing the decay” of America.
Except for this. The single most important idea, when it comes to fundamentally changing Washington, is the budget plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan last April. When most massive-scale-of-change conservatives were defending Ryan’s plan against scorching criticisms from the left, Gingrich described the plan as an example of “right-wing social engineering.” It was Gingrich, not the rest of us, who was counseling caution, timidity, and an unwillingness to shape (rather than follow) public opinion. (The Medicare reform plan Gingrich eventually put out wasn’t nearly as bold and far-reaching as the one put out by Governor Romney.)
So much for Mr. Fundamental Change.
Pretty much everyone seems to believe Mitt Romney’s wealth is a liability. The Democrats have united around a strategy that portrays Romney as too rich for America’s taste. Some of Romney’s rivals have sought votes there as well. The Washington Post takes another whack at Romney about his wealth. Everyone agrees on this–everyone, that is, except actual voters.
Public Policy Polling, a liberal-leaning firm, finds that Romney has seemingly overcome his tax-return foibles, consistent with what other polls have found as well. The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis couldn’t get voters on the trail to disparage Romney for his wealth, even when MacGillis admittedly called them back “and pressed further” in an attempt to get voters to change their minds and please bash Romney’s wealth. They consistently refused his entreaties, however. But delve just a bit into the PPP results and there’s an uncomfortable truth for the media: