Santorum Wins Big In Deep South: Who Is The Real Front-Runner?

Santorum Wins Big In Deep South: Who Is The Real Front-Runner?

03-13-2012
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The Brody File headline from tonight’s double Deep South sweep by Rick Santorum:

Santorum won’t go away, Romney can’t pull away and Gingrich doesn’t appear like he’s going away anytime soon.

Look, let’s be honest. Mitt Romney may be the frontrunner on paper but he is definitely not the frontrunner when it comes to Republican voters. The only reason Romney is doing as well as he has so far is because Santorum and Gingrich are splitting much of the very conservative vote. If that weren’t happening, Romney wouldn’t be in the position he is right now.

Rick Santorum’s wins are important on a couple different levels. First of all, this is a guy who is NOT from the South and yet has now won four southern states. You can now easily make the argument that Santorum has serious appeal in the Midwest and the South. Romney cannot make that same claim.

These wins continue to maximize Santorum’s case that he’s winning the GOP message battle over Romney. If this continues, watch for the political landscape begin to shift from Romney’s inevitability to Romney’s vulnerability.

Secondly, the drumbeat will now get louder for Gingrich to get out but more importantly the money MAY start to dry up. If that happens, the game changes and Santorum will finally get his coveted one-on-one matchup with Romney.

For Newt, he really needed at least one first place finish. Without it, we now wait to see what he’ll do. My hunch is he’ll stay in unless he becomes financially challenged or his supporters start to encourage him to step aside. If Newt really wants to prevent Romney from getting the nomination, his best move might be to get out and back Santorum. I’m not convinced that’s going to happen quickly but after Tuesday evening my political antenna is up even further.

As for Romney, he competed hard in the Deep South and should be given credit for putting up a fight rather than slinking away to safer political waters. He did well and he’ll claim that the delegate split was relatively even. But that leads The Brody File to a very important point we must make.

The Romney campaign talks a lot about delegate math and in a way that is a perfect illustration of what may be wrong with Romney’s effort. They are looking at the campaign through number crunching and accomplishing the goal of getting past the finish line

While any successful campaign needs to do that, it is also so typical of the businessman approach that Romney takes to everything. He’s got the Power point slides cued up, the data drawn up into bar graphs with the goal of producing a nomination victory. It feels very robotic. The number one goal seems to be collecting delegates and if the message doesn’t catch on well then whatever. At least we got the delegates!

Romney’s campaign is becoming a methodical delegate march but missing an accompanying message that is truly resonating with voters. It’s a dangerous way to conduct business because there’s a real chance that a candidate like Rick Santorum (especially if he gets in a one-on-one battle with Romney) will catch on even more with his message. After all, what is Romney’s bumper sticker in this campaign? “Vote For Me Because I Can Beat Obama?” Not inspiring.

Technically, the Romney campaign is right in that the delegate numbers favor Romney. But what that reveals is a disconnect between what the numbers on a piece of paper show and the message voters are sending. Clearly there is a major anti-Romney segment out there, yet by focusing so much on delegate math it is so emblematic of what is wrong with the Romney campaign. They’re wrapped up in just winning the nomination rather than refining the message and beginning to win hearts and minds on the campaign trail.

Look, Romney was close in Alabama and Mississippi and yet his campaign just won’t do any serious campaigning at evangelical and Tea party events. Some may say that he wouldn’t be received well. I’m not so sure of that. But how do you know if you don’t try?

He may be able to move the numbers with these key groups if he would just take them seriously. But his lack of evangelical and Tea party outreach has been abysmal. So let me get this straight: He needed evangelicals in 2008 when he was the social conservative candidate and now in 2012 he doesn’t court them? It plays perfectly into the chameleon like reputation that Romney has been saddled with.

Until he starts to seriously court Teavangelicals he’s going to be stuck in neutral. He needs more of them in his camp and his economic resume attracts them but at some point you have to put some skin in the game.

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