"If I win Illinois, I win the nomination!" So said Senator Rick Santorum last week after bumbling his way through a disastrous week of campaigning that included a stop in Puerto Rico where he further pushed aside potential GOP Latino voters both there and here on the mainland by insisting that English must be adopted as the territory’s "official language" as a pre-condition to statehood - Aye-Yi-Yi!
Santo then went on to make the case that he was the only candidate who could win in the important Midwest, although it seems he doesn’t consider Michigan and Ohio the Midwest. He attempted a pivot on this one by correcting himself with another statement suggesting he meant "The Heartland," which now must not include Illinois either!
Santorum lost Illinois even before the voting began on Tuesday by not even qualifying for about 10 delegates, as he failed to get himself on the ballot in the state’s important 13thCongressional District. The Senator and his campaign are somehow still not ready for prime time. Tuesday night, however, was the kicker. Santo returned home to Pennsylvania to deliver his "victory speech" (after getting crushed in Illinois by Romney 47% to 35%). The Senator took great pride in giving a rambling stem winder in which he regularly and without any apparent preparation tried to make lemons out of lemonade, insisting that next week's contest in Louisiana would be big for him as well as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where he intends to "win a lot of delegates." Let's give Santo Louisiana, unless of course Buddy Roemer mounts a strong last minute write in campaign. It's a very conservative place and his kind of crowd. I might even concede Wisconsin to Santorum as it too is a socially conservative state with a very strong right to life movement. Pennsylvania? Not so fast! Yes, it's Santorum's home state, the place they know him best, and he is leading in the polling right now with about 35%. 35%? That's all this guy can garner in his home state? I smell trouble.
Romney Inc.'s impressive victory in Illinois was best demonstrated in exit polling which showed him winning overwhelmingly with voters who understand the only issue that really matters in this elephant parade: the ability to deny President Obama a second term. 71% of Illinois voters said they support Romney because they believe he was the candidate they thought could beat the President in November. Mitt seemed to begin to bring conservatives home, winning 43% of the conservative vote versus Santorum’s 39% of voters who self identify as very conservative. 43% of voters said Romney is "not conservative enough" and 43% indicated that they felt he was "conservative enough" and that his positions in their view were "just about right." This metric also speaks to Mitt's ability to appeal to moderate and independent voters in a general election. Why is this important? It's a long way to Tampa and a longer way till November. Does anyone think conservatives will not vote? Better yet, does anyone think once Mitt is the nominee in a general election contest between him and Barack Obama that fiscal and social conservatives will not coalesce behind the Republican nominee? Hold the base and attract independent voters: that's how you win a general election.
In "The Land of Lincoln," Romney demonstrated an ability to show that he is the establishment candidate, the conservative-enough candidate and the candidate who can attract added support in a general election-read: Independent swing voters.
Back to the speeches: So Santo takes to the stage in Gettysburg and apologizes that the "big crowd outside couldn't get into the hall." Memo to Santo: Next time, don’t hold your "victory party" at a Pizza Hut! My sense is they went for the small "loser's venue" hoping to get a big enough crowd to make it look like somebody in Pennsylvania actually knows or cares about Santorum. The rambling speech in which the Senator took the time to jab Mitt for having used a teleprompter in his speech by saying "By the way I'm not using a teleprompter" was a laugh riot. Believe me, Senator; everyone knew there wasn't a teleprompter within 10 miles of your speech. I feel bad for the Santorum kids too. Seems like every Tuesday they gather somewhere and stand behind their dad in the dorky sweater vests knowing they’re gonna hear about it from kids on the bus when they get to back to school.
The Santorum line that he is the only conservative choice to defeat Obama has become a silly caricature for a campaign that is well past its sell date. Santorum is no longer hurting the party-even if he wins in a couple of more states, he's now hurting himself. It's time for a reality check at Camp Santo!
The horse is headed to the barn. The nomination process for GOP challenger to President Obama is as clear as it was when all this started. Romney is now the de facto nominee; someone just needs to get that message to Rick Santorum who still believes he's fighting the battle of Gettysburg.