The Washington Post

As the battle drags on, enthusiasm is not there

Well, it won't be long now. During the next two weeks, for the first time in the Republican primaries, the voters will seize the race back from the political-industrial-media complex. They will have their say at a pace that will temporarily overwhelm our ability to make sense of it.

Will the voters do a better job of providing clarity to this campaign than the pundits have? Doubtful. I said a few weeks ago that Mitt Romney is finished if he loses his boyhood home of Michigan. According to the latest polls, that looks less likely. And, even if he loses, he will press on — just as Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will.

It is getting harder for me to see the defining moment of this race, the point at which a clear winner emerges. In that, it shares a characteristic of the 2008 Democratic primary. People forget — how could you remember it all? — how many false summits there were in that race for Obama, how many times Clinton looked vanquished and how, in the end, you actually had to keep track of the delegate count all the way to the end.

This year’s Republican race is well on its way to that outcome. But here’s the difference: the Democratic contest made the party and the nominee ever stronger. What fueled the Clinton-Obama contest was a passionate enthusiasm for both candidates. Turn-out kept increasing.  I will never forget an event I attended when Al Gore endorsed Obama in Detroit at the Joe Louis Arena. Coming right after the primaries had concluded, Obama continued to have the kinds of crowds he had throughout the primaries. The arena was completely full — in downtown Detroit at night — with five thousand people — every one of whom had to wait hours to pass through metal detectors — in an overflow convention hall.

Contrast that with an event Romney did last Friday at Ford Field, a 65,000 seat stadium where the Detroit Lions play. 1,200 people came. Sure, it was an economic speech and more the fault of bad advance than anything else, but it does sit there as a rather glaring metaphor. The Republican primaries are weakening the individual candidates — their negatives are rising — so far depressing Republican turn-out, and reinforcing the weaknesses of the Republican brand — intolerance. (As the great Republican ad-maker Alex Castellanos says of the candidates' views on contraception, it’s bad to be seen as against sex.)

Ed said this morning that he doubts whether the protracted Republican primaries will damage prospects in November. It remains to be seen, but the trend isn’t good.


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