Pop quiz: What do the following two events that took place yesterday have in common?
1) Rick Santorum wins the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, with Mitt Romney coming in third in both.
2) Romney tells a local TV station in Missouri that he would “get rid” of Planned Parenthood.
Answer: Both suggest Romney may remain trapped for months in a political dynamic that could damage him among key swing constituencies in advance of the general eleciton.
Romney won the delegate count last night, and by all accounts he moved closer to the nomination. But Santorum’s wins all but ensure that this contest will drag on into June, forcing Romney to continue embracing positions that appeal to the GOP voting blocs he’s been struggling to connect with but could also alienate independents and women. The pressure on Romney to do this could intensify if Santorum is able to unite conservatives behind his candidacy.
In an example of just such a position, Romney said this in an interview with Missouri’s KSDK-TV in Missouri: “Of course you get rid of Obamacare, that’s the easy one. Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that.”
This is exactly the sort of comment Dems are hoping Romney will be forced to keep making as the GOP nomination battle drags on. The DNC rushed out a video on Romney’s comments, highlighting the cancer screenings and birth control services that Romney would eliminate. The Obama campaign put out a statement arguing that Romney would eliminate “a vital health care provider for millions of American women.”
This comes as a new Bloomberg poll finds that an overwhelming majority, 77 percent, believe birth control should not even be “part of the national political debate.” It also finds that 62 percent think the contraception battle is “a matter of women’s health and access to birth control,” the Dem framing of the issue, while only 33 percent believe it’s about “religious liberty.” Fifty-three percent think Rush Limbaugh should be fired for his “slut” comments.
Romney will have a chance to reintroduce himself to swing voters once he’s the nominee, and he’ll look far stronger at that point than he does now. The polling evidence as to whether this has damaged Romney among women and independents is mixed — the Bloomberg poll still shows women closely divided between Obama and Romney — and it remains to be seen how important this stuff will prove in a general election focused on the economy. But if quotes like this continue to pile up, it won’t hurt the case Dems will make to the independent, unmarried, and suburban women who could be pivotal this fall.
* Santorum’s dual challenges: In the wake of last night’s victories, Santorum needs to consolidate the conservative base behind him as the only alternative to Romney, which will be aided immeasurably if Newt Gingrich drops out. But as Dan Balz notes in his overview of the race, Santorum also needs to broaden his case from one about true conservatism to one about electability:
The former senator from Pennsylvania must now convince Republicans in other regions that his brand of conservatism would make him a stronger nominee against Obama.
The next key test for this comes in Illinois, a state more similar to ones Romney won, such as Michigan and Ohio.
* Top Gingrich ally suggests the race is over for him: After last night’s defeats, Newt’s “southern strategy” would appear to be in shambles, and it won’t help matters that one of Gingrich’s top allies is basically saying the game is over:
This is pretty important,” said Rick Tyler, a longtime Gingrich aide who is now running a super PAC that has poured millions of independent expenditures into supporting the former speaker’s candidacy. “The PAC always felt we needed to win both of these states to change the narrative.”
The question now is whether other leading conservatives will increase the pressure on Gingrich to get out and give Santorum his shot at uniting conservative voters against Romney.
* A race progressives should watch: I’m told that the Progressive Change Campaign Committee will announce today that it has raised over $120,000, more than any other group, for Ilya Sherman, a liberal Dem who is running against a more conservative Democrat in a primary in Illinois’ 10th District.
National liberal groups see this race as a key test of whether they can get candidates who will unabashedly stand up for progressive principles elected in surburban districts. The primary is next week.
* Romney team suffering from overconfidence? A great reported detail from Erin McPike and Carl Cannon:
Right up until the election returns came in Tuesday night, the former Massachusetts governor’s aides were hinting to reporters that they believed a win in one of these states — most likely Mississippi — was within their grasp. Instead, the night ended with two third-place finishes.
* Santorum will try to take this to the convention: Pundits have universally claimed that the math ensures Santorum can’t win, but the Santorum campaign is rebutting that argument:
According to Santorum’s team, the current delegate estimates don’t take into account friendly conservatives who are not locked into voting for Romney and will participate in the forthcoming delegate selection process. If Romney falls short of the 1,144 delegates required to lock down the nomination, Santorum could win at a contested convention.
* Republicans fear a contested convention: Relatedly, it still seems extremely unlikely, but Senate Republicans are being surprisingly forthright about their fear of a contested convention and how bad it would be for their chances of beating Obama.
Key nugget: GOP Senators fear the candidates would have to “spend July and August continuing to raise primary campaign money to fund attacks against each other in an effort to sway convention delegates,” making a quick pivot to general election mode far more difficult.
* Expect another round of handwringing from GOP elites: A smart point from Ed Kilgore:
Romney has now lost four opportunities (after wins in New Hampshire, Florida/Nevada, Michigan, and Ohio) to nail down the nomination, a record that should at some point begin to make his elite backers really take stock of his attractiveness as a candidate.
The question is whether this will make GOP establishment types less likely to call for an end to the contest, giving Santorum more time to have a real run at Romney.
* Obama campain predicts possible loss to Romney: Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, in an email to supporters: “If the general election were held today, President Obama would lose to Mitt Romney — according to the latest poll from Washington Post-ABC News.”
It’s another indication that with the recovery anything but assured — and given that unemployment could rise again in advance of the election — Obama and Dems must prepare for the absolute worst.
* Americans’ love-hate relationship with government: Suzy Khimm digs into a new Pew poll and finds evidence of the dynamic that continues to bedevil Dems: Americans hate government regulation in the abstract but want more government regulation in specific areas such as the environment, health care and workplace safety.