If Santorum Wins in Illinois, He Becomes the New Favorite to Win the Nomination

Forget about the present delegate count among the GOP presidential candidates.  If Rick Santorum wins the Illinois GOP primary next Tuesday, March 20, he will have enough momentum to thereafter decisively defeat Mitt Romney in delegate-rich Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, and California.  

 

In that case, while Mitt Romney will still for the moment have a sizable delegate lead after Illinois, Rick Santorum will become the more likely GOP nominee.  I do not think there is a scenario for Santorum to win on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this August.  If Rick wins in Illinois, however, Romney also will not be able to win the necessary 1,144 delegates for a first ballot nomination.  The delegates are free to vote for whomever they choose after two ballots, and Rick Santorum will win on the fourth ballot, as conservative delegates close ranks around him.

 
The only delegate-rich state that Romney can count on winning hereafter is New Jersey, thanks to the support of popular Governor Chris Christie.  In fact, Chris Christie is the best asset that the Romney campaign has. The reality is that Chris Christie is the only governor in the nation who can deliver his home state for Mitt Romney.   In addition to holding New Jersey for Mitt, Christie is an outstanding surrogate speaker for the Romney campaign.

In fact, Christie’s communication skills are vastly superior to those of Romney.  Prominent GOP center-right players have to be most regretful over Christie’s refusal to enter the GOP presidential sweepstakes.  He would have been a much more effective Presidential candidate from the GOP center-right than Mitt.

In the context of the Romney campaign, Christie reminds me of John Alden in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s, “The Courtship of Miles Standish”. When John Alden tried to woo Priscilla Mullins for Miles Standish, she responded by saying “Speak for yourself, John” and soon thereafter became his wife. When Chris Christie woos GOP audiences for Mitt, the reaction of the crowd is often, “Speak for yourself, Chris – we wish you were the candidate instead of Mitt.”

But back to Santorum.  In this year of 2012, he has become a genuine GOP phenomenon.  Romney has had every single resource advantage over Rick – endorsements, organization, and money.  Yet Santorum has scored triumphs over Mitt in Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, Minnesota, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi, and Alabama.  This is largely due to the fact that while Mitt has money and organizational advantages, Rick is vastly superior to him when it comes to message.

Santorum’s policy message is mostly focused on ObamaCare, an issue as to which Romney has virtually no credibility, due to his involvement with RomneyCare in Massachusetts.  Yet there is another aspect of the Santorum message which makes him a most attractive candidate to Reagan Democrats and Democratic working class family members.  To understand this aspect, you have to be familiar with Western Pennsylvania, where Rick Santorum grew up – and where I grew up.

Santorum lived in Butler, Pennsylvania during his adolescent years.  I resided in New Kensington, a suburb of Pittsburgh not far from Butler.  Butler was most famous for being the home town of Terry Hanratty, who became an All-American quarterback at Notre Dame and later the back-up quarterback to Terry Bradshaw on the Pittsburgh Steelers.  I served as equipment manager and statistician of my high school baseball team, and Butler High School’s team was one of our rivals.  They played in a park that once housed a New York Yankees farm team.

Western Pennsylvania was home to many immigrants from Europe, like Rick Santorum’s father.  It was the land where many American dreams began and many American dreams later died when manufacturing in America went into a deep decline.

The demise of manufacturing in Western Pennsylvania began in the late 1950s until its denouement in the late 1970s.   Before then, Western Pennsylvania was viewed by these children of immigrants as a land of opportunity.  Family, faith, patriotism, and hard work were the values by which these good people conducted their lives.  When manufacturing left Western Pennsylvania, the economic dreams of many Western Pennsylvania families were shattered, and their values were under assault by an avant garde, counter-culture media.

Rick Santorum speaks for these families and for millions of other Americans who have been likewise affected by the demise of American manufacturing and the attack by the counter-culture on traditional values.  This is a most potent message.  By contrast, Romney’s message thus far in the campaign has been a rather lame assertion – “You may not like me, but my opponents are worse.”

As my readers know, I like to compare political candidates with boxers.  To me, Rick Santorum most resembles Jimmy Braddock, the Cinderella Man from North Bergen, New Jersey who left boxing for a period during the Great Depression due to losses and injuries.  After returning to boxing, Braddock, as a 10-1 underdog scored one of the greatest upsets in boxing history when he defeated Max Baer on June 13, 1935 for the heavyweight championship of the world.  Similarly, after he lost his U.S. Senate seat in 2006, Cinderella Man Santorum left the political arena, only to return as a presidential candidate in 2012, where he began the race as a huge underdog and is now one of the two leading candidates.

Mitt Romney also reminds me of a former heavyweight champion: Floyd Patterson.  Like Floyd, Romney is fast on his feet and agile – the debates showed that.  Just as Floyd had real punching power, Mitt’s negative commercials did real damage to his opponents.

 

Yet there is a huge negative boxing/ politics similarity existing between  Floyd and Mitt.  Patterson was known for having a glass jaw, and Romney likewise has a political glass jaw – his past record as a liberal/moderate Republican.   To  protect his political glass jaw, Romney has engaged in “carpet-bombing” of his primary election opponents with negative television and radio commercials, trying to persuade a skeptical electorate that he is the real conservative in the race.   

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Yet one of these Romney commercials has now backfired badly:  his radio advertisement during the Ohio primary in which he criticized Santorum for voting in the Senate for the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor as a Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  This commercial, along with other positions Mitt took during the campaign has generated massive antipathy to Romney in the Hispanic community.   Santorum is now highly likely in a general election to attract a significantly larger vote from the Hispanic community than Romney could.

 

The anti-Sotomayor commercial may well be the worst blunder of the Romney campaign to date.  Justice Sotomayor is a revered person in the Hispanic community.  When she was nominated by President Obama to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009, then-candidate for New Jersey governor Chris Christie had the good political judgement to support her nomination.  Romney would have been well advised to follow Christie’s example.

 

Romney partisans will continue to assert that Mitt is the more electable candidate.  Present polls show Mitt only doing slightly better than Rick against Obama.  Yet given Romney’s problems with Hispanic voters and his credibility problems on ObamaCare, the President’s most significant vulnerability, one must at least question the “Mitt is more electable” assumption.

 

Given all this, I still believe that if Romney wins in Illinois on Tuesday, he remains the favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination.  If Santorum prevails in the Land of Lincoln, however, he will shortly thereafter be perceived as the new favorite in the race.  The Man from Butler will truly have become the Cinderella Man.

 

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.

 

 

If Santorum Wins in Illinois, He Becomes the New Favorite to Win the Nomination