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Republican voters not in love with Romney, Santorum

at 06:30 AM ET, 03/09/2012

The Ohio presidential primary revealed one key thing about the Republican electorate: They haven’t fallen head over heels for either of the two frontrunning candidates.


(Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. )
While former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum finished first and second, respectively, in the Ohio balloting (and won more than 900,000 votes combined) the support for both men, according to an analysis of the exit polling, was far more tepid than you might expect.

Of Romney’s Ohio supporters, 41 percent said they strongly favored the former governor, while 44 percent said they liked him with reservations, and another 13 percent said their vote for him was more driven by dislike for the other candidates

The story was much the same for Santorum, with 41 percent strongly favoring him as compared to 43 percent who liked him with reservations, and another 14 percent who opted for Santorum due to a distaste for their other options.

That means that majorities of those who voted for Romney and Santorum in Ohio did so for a reason other than that they strongly favored their choice. That’s a remarkable finding three months into the Republican nominating contest.

(Both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul scored far higher on the passion index in Ohio. It’s worth noting, however, that each man received a far smaller share of the vote than either Santorum or Romney.)

The large number of Romney and Santorum voters in Ohio who cast a ballot for one of the two men with genuine reservations about them speaks to a broader lack of enthusiasm toward the GOP field that has permeated this race almost from its start.

For months, speculation swirled about the possibility of a late entrant into the race — someone (New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan) who could jump into the contest and immediately sweep the Republican primary electorate off its feet.

With the prospect of such a late entrant — or even a brokered convention where one of the men mentioned above would allow himself to be recruited to carry the party banner in the fall — now increasingly unlikely, the Ohio result shows that voters are more resigned than raring-to-go about their remaining choices.

That is, they know that Romney and Santorum are the two candidates with real chances at being the nominee (Romney much more so than Santorum, due to the cold, hard delegate math). But, neither man excites them in a meaningful way. They vote for one or the other but do so while maintaining significant reservations about each man.

Call it an enthusiasm problem. Call it a passion problem. Call it whatever you like. But if Ohio is indicative of the mood of the Republican electorate toward Romney and Santorum, both men need to do more on the positive messaging side to convince people that they are worthy of the nomination.

The reality is that one of the four people currently in the race will win. But winning without a swell of enthusiasm behind you could ultimately prove hollow in the general election fight against President Obama.

Romney and Santorum need to find a way to get people excited about their candidacies — and quick.

Alabama polling shows tight race: Two separate surveys in Alabama show a close and jumbled race.

A poll from Alabama State University shows Santorum at 23 percent, Romney at 19 percent and Gingrich at 14 percent.

A poll from the Capital Survey Research Center, meanwhile, showed Romney in the lead at 30 percent, Gingrich at 25 percent and Santorum in third place at 20 percent.

So, in other words, polling is pretty all over the place.

But that’s better than in Mississippi, where these is no polling.

Mississippi governor backs Romney: Newly minted Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) endorsed Romney on Thursday, giving the former Massachusetts governor endorsements from both GOP governors in Tuesday’s Southern primaries.

Earlier this week, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) also backed Romney.

It’s really not anything new; Romney has been nabbing endorsements from top Republicans in many of the early states in the presidential process.

Meanwhile, Santorum got the backing of Alabama native and San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.

Jackson Jr. ad ties Halvorson to gun violence: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), facing a primary from former congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, is up with a very tough new ad.

The ad features the mother of a young Chicago man who was gunned down and connects the episode to Halvorson’s support for the National Rifle Association.

“Debbie Halvorson sided and voted with the Republicans and the NRA against gun control — against the very laws that might have kept my son alive,” the woman, Pam Bosley, says in the ad.

Bosley’s son, Terrell, was killed in 2006 at the age of 18 while walking to choir practice.

Fixbits:

Gingrich makes fun of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s and Henry Kissinger’s accents.

Santorum thinks he can knock Gingrich out of the race in the next four days.

Bill Maher, whom Republicans are trying to compare to Rush Limbaugh for his comments about women, defends Limbaugh’s right to free speech.

Another top Republican worries aloud about the party’s rhetoric hurting it with Latinos.

American Crossroads goes up with a $300,000 buy against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

The Democrats’ recruit against embattled Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) accuses national Democrats — including fellow South Floridian and DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz — of undermining his campaign.

Will Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) run in Washington state after losing his primary Tuesday in Ohio? He says it’s “very unlikely.”

The Republican National Committee raised $11.3 million in February.

Must-reads:

Rick Santorum’s delegate woes: Trying hard in some states; in others, not so much” — Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post

Santorum’s goal Tuesday: Knock out Gingrich” — Michael O’Brien, MSNBC

Rising G.O.P. Star From Staten Island Draws on Political Gifts to Fend Off Critics” — Anne Barnard, New York Times

Amid Calls to Quit, Gingrich Seems More Subdued” — Trip Gabriel, New York Times

To Mitt Romney campaign, enthusiasm may be overrated” — Jason Horowitz, Washington Post

 
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