Illinois voters: Keep the primary going!

at 06:19 PM ET, 03/20/2012

Even as the Washington Republican political establishment grumbles about the possible ill effects of an extended primary fight for the party’s presidential nomination, voters in today’s Illinois race seem perfectly content for the race to continue for months, according to early exit polling.


CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 20: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) is shown a graph of internet traffic in Libya during the revolution by Engineering Site Lead Will Robinson at the Google Chicago headquarters March 20, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Approximately two-thirds of Illinois primary voters said they want their preferred candidate to prevail regardless of how long that might take. That includes three in four voters who voted for former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum who say they are willing to let the process play out for months so that he can be the nominee. Six in ten of those who backed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said the same.

That attitude stands in stark contrast to the view of many within the GOP establishment who have begun to go public with their concerns about a protracted primary fight.

“I think, overall, you’d have to say that the scales have moved from the long process being a positive to being a negative,”former Bush White House political guru Karl Rove said Monday during an appearance on Fox News Channel. “I don’t think anybody in their right mind thinks that this way the primaries have played out has been good for the Republican chances.”

The argument Rove is forwarding publicly — and many in the party’s professional class are making privately — is that the longer the primary goes on, the more likely it is that Romney will continue to be dragged to the ideological right, particularly on social issues, that will make it harder for him to court independents when the general election begins.

Those fears are exacerbated by the fact that most establishment Republicans believe that Romney is the all-but-certain nominee due to his large lead in the delegate count. Given that, in their minds, neither Santorum nor former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have any credible path to the 1,144 delegates needed to be the party’s standard-bearer, the idea of simply going through the motions for the next two months is particularly odious.

Of course, rank and file Republicans tend not to think like that. For most voters, the presidential race is only just starting. After all, just more than half of the country has voted. And, the general election isn’t for another eight months.

The average person is simply not engaged in the presidential race — or politics more generally — at the same (nerdy) level as those of us who spend their time in the nation’s capital. The race doesn’t exist for most folks until it hits their state. And once the presidential circus moves on, they don’t spend all that much time thinking about it.

And so, whether a long primary is a good thing or a bad one for Republicans in the fall, it looks like a long primary is what the party is going to get.

 
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