Mitt Romney scored two big, much needed wins. He won Arizona going away by more than 20 points, letting the cable newsers call the race when polls closed. In Michigan it turned out to be a small, but solid, win for Romney. Most important, he won Republican voters by 10 points, suggesting that the “Romney isn’t bonding with Republicans” meme is overblown, if not dead wrong. Senior adviser Stu Stevens told me, “Governor Romney won overwhelmingly with Republicans, just as he’s done across the country.”
He also won by 38 to 31 percent over Rick Santorum voters who made up their minds today, suggesting there may have been a backlash against Santorum’s robocalls to Democrats. Moreover, Santorum went to Ohio while Romney stayed and battled for the final votes in Michigan.
As for other demographic groups, Santorum lost Catholic voters, perhaps offended by his remark that JFK’s 1960 speech made him “throw up.” Santorum lost male voters by one point and women by five, suggesting the gender gap is still an issue for him.
Despite all the media fascination with the empty seats at Ford Field and the comment about his wife’s Cadillacs, Romney beat expectations and most of the election eve polls. He has temporarily tamed the storyline that he can’t bond with Republican voters. On a day on which President Obama’s approval dipped to 43 percent, Stevens noted, “This is when President Obama should be at a peak. And he may well be.”
Although Romney lost the very conservative vote, he won the somewhat conservative vote handily.
The race is far from over, and Romney faces big challenges in a number of Super Tuesday states. But for now the wins put the two February 7 caucuses and the Missouri beauty contest in some perspective.
Perhaps most important for Romney, he gains some relief from the media pounding and maybe gives himself the opportunity to continue to flesh out an agenda and build upon the conservative tax plan that he rolled out last week.
As for Santorum, this is a hard lesson that when you decide to “plant the flag” in a state you better stay and win it. It is also a warning that his rhetorical excesses take him even beyond the right of the GOP. A Santorum adviser last night conceded his candidate needed to get back to an economic message. But whether Santorum can shed his inflammatory statements and put his Senate voting record in context is another matter.
A rather subdued Santorum tried to put the race in the most favorable light (he came into Romney’s background, he said somewhat defensively). He did not congratulate his opponents publicly, a bad and ungracious habit he should stop. He did however call to concede to Romney, according to Romney advisers. His attempt to harvest Democrats was ultimately unsuccessful, and the attempt to get liberal Democrats to vote against Romney may leave a bad taste in conservative mouths. (Stevens observed, “The Santorum campaign realized they had lost with Republicans and tried to pull it out with Obama Democrats. That tactic failed just like the Obama economy.”)
Santorum, again declining to use a prepared or devise a focused speech, rambled at the start of his remarks. That too will need to change. He spent considerable time talking about his working mother and wife, a sign that his comments about women and book are hurting him with female voters. He eventually got back to his agenda, reminding voters of his opposition to the individual mandate and his blue-collar economic appeal. Perhaps if he had talked about these items earlier last week in Michigan, he would have pulled it out. But in his meandering and disjointed appeal, one sensed he needs a script and some better direction. He has a week to pull it all together.