The true conservative alternative: Ron Paul?

at 06:30 AM ET, 02/06/2012

Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are fighting for the right to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.

But they both lost that battle in Nevada — to Ron Paul.

Entrance polls from Saturday’s Nevada caucuses show Romney racking up huge wins among the vast majority of demographics, which isn’t surprising given that he took about 50 percent of the vote.

But the one demographic that is supposed to be Gingrich’s and Santorum’s bread and butter — people looking for the “true conservative” in the race — didn’t go for either one of them.

Which begs the question: Just what is the argument for their candidacies right now?

The entrance polls show about one in five voters said the most important attribute they want to see in a candidate is that he is a “true conservative.”

Among those voters, Romney took just 4 percent — a showing that lends credence to the idea that there is room for a true conservative alternative.
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) speaks during a campaign stop at Bethel University on Saturday in Arden Hills, Minn. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

But those voters didn’t spurn Romney for Gingrich or Santorum; instead, they went for Paul, who won the demographic with about 40 percent.

Now, it’s fair to point out that Nevada is one of the more libertarian states in the country, so it’s not surprising that Nevada Republicans’ idea of a “true conservative” might be different from other states.

But this is really a must-have demographic for Gingrich and Santorum, and the fact that neither of them tapped it is bad news for their campaigns and their cases for pressing forward.

Exit and entrance polls give voters four options for their top priority in picking a candidate — that they can beat President Obama, that they have the right experience, that they have strong moral character and that they are the true conservative in the field.

With the exception of South Carolina, where Gingrich won, it has become clear that Romney is viewed as the candidate most prepared to beat Obama; he has won this demographic with huge majorities in every state except the one, and this is easily the most popular priority with GOP voters so far.

Romney has also shown himself to be strong enough in both of the other two most-important demographics: moral character and experience.

The “true conservative” vote, then, is really the only one where he is going to cede big votes. It’s a necessary — if not sufficient — demographic for any would-be anti-Romney candidate.

But if a significant amount of these voters are going to Paul, then Gingrich and Santorum have no chance.

Obama says he has earned a second term: In an interview with NBC News that aired Sunday, Obama says he’s performed well enough to deserve a second term in office.

During his 2009 Super Bowl interview, Obama said his presidency would be a “one-term proposition” if he hadn’t turned the economy around after three years.

Confronted with that quote, Obama said he has delivered.

“I deserve a second term,” he said. “But we’re not done.”

Santorum expects success in Missouri: Santorum is hoping to get some momentum in Missouri’s beauty contest of a primary Tuesday, and he’s now predicting success.

“We’ve got a one-on-one matchup against Mitt Romney in Missouri,” Santorum said on “Fox News Sunday.” “While there’s no delegates, it is a key state, it is a primary. And we think we can do exceptionally well in the state of Missouri.”

Convincing the media that it matters, of course, is going to be part of this. And Santorum seems to have set about doing that.

Missouri is allocating its delegates based on the results of a March caucus in order to avoid being penalized for holding its contest too early. But it was unable to get rid of its legally mandated primary.

Gingrich’s campaign didn’t qualify for the ballot, so it does provide Santorum a true one-on-one matchup, if nothing else.

Low turnout in Nevada: Nevada’s caucuses Saturday wound up much like they did four years ago — with a big win for Romney.

But they differed in one key way for the GOP looking forward. Specifically, turnout was lower.

While the state GOP predicted turnout as high as 70,000, it wound up likely falling short of 2008’s turnout of 44,000.

That's not a great sign for a GOP banking on increased voter enthusiasm.

Fixbits:

Gingrich calls Romney “timid.”

Gingrich still has $600,000 in campaign debt.

SNL sends up Newt’s moon colony idea.

The Texas primary may be in flux, but it’s still important.

Rudy Giuliani says Romney’s changes from his more moderate days as Massachusetts governor “give me pause.” Giuliani has yet to endorse in the presidential race.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), known for her staff turnover, parts ways with one of the few staff members who had been with her for a long time.

Bachmann won’t be endorsing before Tuesday’s Minnesota caucuses.

Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) runs a Super Bowl ad labeling Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) as “Senator Spenditnow.” The ad features an Asian woman thanking Stabenow for sending jobs overseas.

As of today, top GOP polling firm Ayres, McHenry and Associates will be known as Northstar Opinion Research. Same team but with a new name and Web site.

The fall of Christine O’Donnell.

Must-reads:

Newt Gingrich campaign offers detailed plan to carry on” — Amy Gardner, Washington Post

What Planned Parenthood wins in funding fights with Komen and Congress” — Sarah Kliff, Washington Post

Mormons grapple with media attention during Romney run” — Manya A. Brachear, Chicago Tribune

 
Read what others are saying