Romney's Pyrrhic Victory
By Al Giordano
While tea leaves point to a likely Florida primary victory for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tonight, the former Massachusetts governor will emerge only marginally ahead in the delegate count with 46 of the 50 states yet to cast a vote.
But the costs of this victory to Romney go far beyond the $17 million in attack ads he and his Super PACs deployed to stop – now for the second time in a young campaign – the rise of rival Newt Gingrich. Hell hath no wrath like a Gingrich scorched. The former House Speaker is the Keith Richards of US politics: no matter what debauchery he passes through he never dies. Newt is the zombie candidate. Burn him, bomb him, poison him, hack him into a thousand pieces and he quickly reassembles and gets back up again, madder than before and coming right back at ya'.
The story out of Florida isn't Romney's win (and if, as some late polls suggest, it ends up thinner than double digits, even that will be questioned). It is that Romney has failed, again, to eliminate his nemesis. But that’s not even the worst that happened to Mitt in Florida. Ten days ago, general election polls showed him in a tie with President Barack Obama in this must-win swing state. Then Romney had to debate Gingrich and the other candidates and make bold statements to prove his fealty to the far right GOP base that are far outside of mainstream public opinion, especially the views of independent swing voters. The new general election numbers in Florida are Obama 49 percent to 41 for Romney; a dramatic turnabout for the president in a matter of days. (All the Republican candidates have been wounded for the general election by their adventures in pander-to-the-base wingnuttery, the poll also shows: Obama 50, Paul 36; Obama 50, Santorum 35; Obama 52, Gingrich 35.) The survey was taken January 25 to 27 and has a 2.6 margin of error.
This, without the Obama campaign spending a cent on advertising in Florida: Given, his State of the Union address clearly boosted the president’s popularity there and nationwide with those independent swing voters who decide elections. And his campaign has cleverly used each primary and caucus so far to reignite the trained community organizers of his field organization, state by state, that took him to the White House four years ago. One Field Hand reports “huge turnout” at the events this week opening Obama campaign headquarters throughout the Sunshine State. And the Republican candidates’ own statements and behavior has frightened even Democrats who, only weeks ago, were angry and disillusioned with their president enough to say so publicly. Today, many of those same people have gone from declarations of "I'm not voting" to posting “I’ve got his back” messages to their social network pages.
So while the Field projects Romney to win tonight’s Florida primary, it’s clear that the real winner of the contest is Barack Obama. Romney’s victory came at a cost that will haunt him for months to come as Zombie Gingrich keeps rising from the tomb.
We’ve now watched three Republican primary and one caucus vote. And each time the pundits of the press corps have declared those contests to have been deciders of the nomination. Not so fast, kids! The Unbearable Lightness of Romney will continue to make him victim to the whims of a fickle Republican electorate that remains unhappy with its crop of candidates. Each time one of them seems to gather steam – Santorum in Iowa, Romney in New Hampshire, Gingrich in South Carolina – the momentum turns against that guy in the next contest. The moment somebody looks like the virtual nominee, buyer’s remorse sets in and the tables turn anew.
What’s more is that relatively few delegates will be at stake in the coming weeks, most of them in caucus states (Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota and Maine between February 4 and 11), giving Ron Paul a chance to emerge here or there as an underdog winner on more libertarian friendly ground, and giving Gingrich the breathing room he needs to regroup and assemble the minimal resources to come back and fight again. Gingrich will pick a state to reenter sprinting. Will it be Arizona on February 28? (Romney is expected to handily win Michigan, where his father was once governor, on that same date.) Or will it be Super Tuesday on March 6, where some states – Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia (where only Romney and Paul are on the ballot) – give home field advantage to Romney, but others – Georgia, Tennessee, perhaps Oklahoma – will be friendlier to Gingrich? And the big one on Super Tuesday – Ohio – will be set up by the media as probably the most telling battleground that day, which is still five weeks away. A week after that Gingrich gets to play in Alabama and Mississippi, and the back-and-forth ping pong game of victories and defeats between the two leading Republican candidates will keep going, perhaps all the way to a brokered convention. At least that’s what the party establishment fears.
In the end, nothing is decided by Florida. Not until November, anyway…