Romney survives the conservative gauntlet

at 06:30 AM ET, 03/14/2012

Even in defeat, Mitt Romney is nothing if not consistent. In nearly every state where he has campaigned, exit polls show Romney performing basically the same in every major demographic group, give or take a few points.

And despite the results Tuesday night, it’s almost definitely good enough for him to win the GOP nomination.
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy introduces Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, at a campaign stop at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Monday, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/ John David Mercer)

That’s because, while those demographics have been too tough for him to overcome in Southern primaries and Midwestern caucus states, those states are basically done voting.

The road forward goes through much less conservative voters.

Early exit polls in Mississippi made it look like Romney was primed for a breakthrough. He held an early lead with blue collar voters, tea party supporters and even evangelicals — the one group that has beguiled him more than any other.

Problem was, it was too good to be true.

Indeed, by the end of the night, reality set in, the numbers in Mississippi shifted, and Romney lost all three groups in both states.

Romney again relied heavily on non-evangelical voters, more moderate voters, wealthy voters and voters who just want someone who can beat President Obama — just as he has in every other state. It’s been good enough in most states; in the South, it’s just not.

And his track record there speaks volumes.

How consistent is Romney? He has taken between 26 percent and 30 percent of the vote in every Southern state dominated by conservative voters — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The thing is, while that consistency cost him on Tuesday, it’s likely to benefit him going forward. While the voting is just halfway done, Romney is almost done with his most troubling region, the South, and his most troubling contests, Midwestern caucuses.

Even in the remaining Southern states, things may get better; both Texas and Louisiana feature more concentrated urban populations (a Romney strong suit) than other Southern states, which should help him perform better. (Romney also performed well in Western Mississippi, which is a good omen for his campaign in the state’s neighbor-to-the-west, Louisiana, on March 24.)

Romney’s problems outside the South have been almost completely relegated to Midwestern caucus states with low turnout. In fact, the only primary Romney has lost outside of the South was in Missouri, which was a beauty contest in which Romney didn’t compete.

As Chris noted in his Monday column, the schedule going forward is much friendlier for Romney, particularly once we get to April.

Missouri’s caucuses on Saturday are the last caucuses of the GOP nominating contest until June, which means the race forward is dominated by primaries with higher turnout and less conservative electorates.

If he keeps performing as he’s performed so far in such situations, he should be able to put together a pretty strong string of victories.

Of course, things can always change (notably, if Newt Gingrich drops out and leaves Rick Santorum as the lone conservative alternative), but right now, the consistency Romney has shown so far in the race bodes well for him going forward.

He’s gotten through the toughest part of the campaign for him, and he’s still winning a majority of the delegates.

Santorum not backing off Fox criticism: Santorum doubled down on his criticism of Fox News Channel on Tuesday night.

In a phone interview with Fox’s Greta van Susteren, Santorum said some Fox hosts have been fair, but that some of them have indeed been “shilling for” Romney.

“Greta, you’ve been awesome, and Sean (Hannity) has been awesome,” Santorum said. “You guys are great at putting me on the air, but I’m talking about your news shows. I’m not complaining. I’m not going to be whining about this. That’s the reality. We’ve had to deal with it.”

Fixbits:

White House press secretary Jay Carney eases up on Gingrich.

New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D) says Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) should stop his “unfortunate” attacks on legislators.

Barring some last-minute Hail Mary from the state legislature, New York courts will draw the state’s new congressional map.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who faces a potentially tough race for his party’s nomination, says he will serve only one more term if he is reelected.

Democrats are recruiting former Republican congressman Joe Schwarz (Mich.) to challenge Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.). Walberg beat Schwarz in a 2006 primary.

“Game Change” is a (home) box office hit.

Former Hawaii governor Linda Lingle’s (R) Senate campaign isn’t saying who she voted for Tuesday.

Obama picked Kentucky and teams from three swing states for his Final Four bracket.

Must-reads:

Muddled Economic Picture Muddles the Political One, Too” — David Leonhardt, New York Times

Barbour details presidential decision” — Mike Allen, Politico

Delegate System Gives Small States Outsize Clout at Convention” — Michael Cooper, New York Times

For Romney, having Gingrich around may not be such a bad thing” — Amy Gardner, Washington Post

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