In The News, Op-Eds, Presidential Elections

Super Tuesday Reflections

Published in The Hill, March 7, 2012

The voters spoke in 10 states, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is likely to be the Republican nominee. However, he will not wrap up the race anytime soon. And he’s going to have a very difficult time winning over the skeptical voters he needs for victory in November.

Gov. Romney, now the presumed front-runner, took six of the 10 contests on Super Tuesday. The result was a harvest of nearly 200 delegates, giving him roughly 400 overall—including Republican National Committee members who have endorsed him. But he remains far short of the 1,144 needed for the nomination. With Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich both winning races and even Ron Paul coming close in Virginia, Romney gained little momentum for this dreadful, never-ending slog across the nation.

The result exposes Romney’s extreme weakness in facing the president in the fall. States like Ohio and Virginia are direct routes to the White House. Ohio is an industrial bastion, home to the white working class that long resisted President Obama’s charms. Yet on Super Tuesday, Romney eked out a bare plurality, 38 percent to 37, over Santorum after out-spending the latter 4 to 1.

Virginia is a diverse state: moderate conservative, upper South, a mixture of minorities, government employees, libertarians and traditionalists. Romney won a less than impressive 59 percent in a two-man race against Paul. The latter continues to draw support from groups like the young while Romney, so far, has done and said little to win their support in November.

Victory then quite clearly depends on putting together a broad electoral coalition. While Romney continues to win contests in the Midwest and Northeast, he had a much harder time in the South, where he lost both Georgia and Tennessee and gained an anemic win in Virginia. There are three more Southern states — Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi — to come in March.

Demographics highlight Romney’s problem. In November, the president is likely to win more votes from African-Americans, women, Latinos, young people and the highly educated.

The issue now is whether Romney will be able to expand his base beyond the fiscal conservatives and foreign policy hawks who now support him. Can Romney beguile Tea Party activists, evangelicals, cultural conservatives, white working-class males and libertarians? So far none of these groups is sold on his candidacy.

Romney needs to find a message that will encourage the latter groups to turn out for him in November. He must demonstrate a philosophical backbone and convince them that his convictions are their convictions. He also needs to show that he understands the concerns of NASCAR fans as well as owners and corporate executives.

Romney needs to essentially start over. He needs a positive agenda of real change. For instance, government should be smarter as well as smaller. Romney should reach out to young people, African-Americans, Latinos, immigrants and women, none of whom typically feel especially welcome in the Republican Party.

Arguably, only Romney has a plausible path to winning a majority of the delegates before the convention in August. However, much could go wrong. If he falters, the doors would open for anyone seeking to take advantage of a delegate deadlock. The biggest smile after Super Tuesday likely belongs to Barack Obama.

Michelle D. Bernard is the president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy.

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