Wisconsin primary: Rick Santorum’s Waterloo?

at 06:30 AM ET, 04/03/2012

Is it over yet?


Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum pauses while speaking in Menasha, Wis., on Monday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Even the most die-hard political junkies could be forgiven for wondering when the Republican presidential race will take its last heaving breath and keel over, never to be heard from again.

The death rattle is clearly audible in the race these days, as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney spars with the White House while former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum tries, in vain, to convince an ever-shrinking piece of the Republican electorate that this race is still a race.

Santorum has avoided calling Wisconsin, which is set to hold its presidential primary today, a must-win for his continued existence in the race (as opposed to the Pennsylvania primary later this month, which he acknowledges he has to win). On Monday, he told reporters that “I think in this primary, the longer it goes the better it is for the party.”

But, there is growing evidence that the protracted primary is actually hurting the party’s chances. The latest piece of bad news for Republicans? A Gallup/USA Today poll of 12 swing states that shows Romney trailing President Obama by nine points, a deficit directly tied to the Republican’s struggles among women voters.

The problem for Republicans is that, while the political professional class badly wants the primary to be over, there’s little evidence that voters feel the same. In the Illinois primary exit poll, two-thirds of people said they wanted the primary to go on as long as it took for their preferred candidate to win. Three in four people who supported Santorum said they didn’t mind an elongated primary as long as their guy managed to win.

Combine Santorum’s dogged refusal to talk endgame and the strong desire among his supporters for him to stay in the race and it’s tough to imagine a scenario by which Wisconsin brings a formal end to the contest.

“It would take a crushing defeat ... 12 to 15 points, and even then he might hang on,” said Paul Wilson, a consultant to Romney-supporting Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.. “He holds out improbable hope that there will be a delegate miracle at the convention.”

Polling — of which there hasn’t been much — suggests Santorum is likely to lose but not by a double-digit margin. An NBC/Marist poll last week showed Romney leading Santorum 40 percent to 33 percent, and the Pollster.com average of all surveys conducted in the state features a similar margin.

If Romney can over-perform polls — and he’s rarely done that in the nomination race to date — then he might be able to bring enough pressure to bear on Santorum that the former Pennsylvania senator seriously weighs dropping out.

But if Romney wins by between five and seven points, it seems a near-certainty that Santorum stays in the race all the way through April 24, when his home state of Pennsylvania votes.

RGA raised $12.2 million in first quarter: The Republican Governors Association will announce today that it raised $12.2 million in the first quarter of 2012, besting its Democratic counterpart yet again.

The RGA outraised the Democratic Governor Association by $4.2 million for the quarter and increased its fundraising advantage this cycle. Since the start of 2011, it has raised about $56 million, compared to $28 million for the DGA.

The RGA also has a very strong $34 million cash on hand, which is the most it has ever had at the end of the first quarter in an election year. The DGA has not announced a cash on hand figure.

Health care law takes a hit: The re-animated debate over Obama’s health care bill appears to have hurt both it and the public’s perception of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A new Washington Post/Pew poll shows most Americans didn’t change their views about either last week, but among the approximately 30 percent who did (in each case), about three-quarters changed their opinions for the negative.

Among independents, 27 percent said they had a more unfavorable view of the health care law than they did before it came to the Supreme Court. Just 6 percent said their opinion became more favorable.

Fixbits:

Romney is now halfway to clinching the nomination, according to the most recent AP delegate projections.

Romney is confronted on an old Mormon doctrine that held that interracial marriage was a sin.

Romney says Obama has reneged on his plan to tackle illegal immigration reform.

Newt Gingrich, whose campaign promised a more positive tone after it was re-tooled recently, goes after Romney for having “no principles.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pitches Hillary Clinton as the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nominee.

Opponents will again attempt to recall Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R).

Kansas’s redistricting process hits a snag as moderate Republicans battle conservative Republicans.

Former congressman Joe Schwarz (R-Mich.) will decide soon whether to seek a rematch with Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) as a Democrat. Democrats have wooed the moderate, who lost to Walberg in a primary in 2006.

Washington state will fill Rep. Jay Inslee’s (D) seat in a special election held the same day as the regular November election. The winner of that race will serve between Election Day and the swearing in of the freshman class. Inslee resigned to run for governor.

Osceola County Council Chairman John Quinones (R) will run for the new Democratic-leaning 9th district in Florida. This is the same seat former congressman Alan Grayson (D) is running for.

Must-reads:

A Favored Son Returns to Uphill Battle in Nebraska” — Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times

Weighing When Slim Hopes Become a G.O.P. Problem” — Jim Rutenberg and Trip Gabriel, New York Times

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