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Do or Die for Romney in Florida?

Romney must prove that GOP voters will accept him as their nominee.

by
Neil Snyder

Bio

January 26, 2012 - 12:00 am

If former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney loses the Florida primary next week, his 2012 presidential campaign strategy may go down in the annals of political history as one of the worst ever. Mitt had it all: money, name recognition, a grassroots organization, business experience, and experience running a presidential campaign. He must have thought, or should I say that his advisors must have thought, that he was a shoo-in for the GOP nomination. From his perspective, it must have looked as though all he needed to do was avoid a catastrophic blunder and the nomination was his for the taking. If that’s what he believed, he was wrong — dead wrong.

Romney lost a close one in Iowa to Rick Santorum and won in New Hampshire.  Next, he went to South Carolina. With a commanding lead in the polls and with the support of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, he was looking forward to an easy win in the Palmetto State that was supposed to be followed in a matter of days by another win in the Sunshine State. But things didn’t go as planned. South Carolinians weren’t enamored with Romney’s campaign style that resembled Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope maneuver. He held himself above the fray, leaned against the ropes, and allowed his challengers, particularly Newt Gingrich, to pummel him. In a matter of days, Romney turned a sure victory in South Carolina into a whopping defeat and elevated Gingrich to the frontrunner position.

The Florida primary was supposed to be Romney’s firewall, the state where he would close out his opponents and wrap up the GOP nomination. Instead, he finds himself fighting for his political life, and his prospects for winning in Florida and nationally are looking worse with each passing day. As of January 24th, PPP’s Florida poll shows Gingrich at 38% (up 12 points since last week), Romney at 33% (down 13 points since last week), Rick Santorum at 13%, and Ron Paul at 10%. Gallup’s tracking poll for the GOP nomination shows Gingrich at 31% and taking off like a rocket, Romney at 27% and falling fast, and both Santorum and Paul at 12%. (A poll released yesterday shows Romney up by two points.) Update: Polls from Rasmussen and InsiderAdvantage this morning confirm this turn for Romney.

Making matters worse for Romney, he was unable to convince former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to endorse him, leaving open the possibility that he will endorse someone else or maybe that he will seek/accept the GOP nomination. In a Commentary article, Seth Mandel said, “Of all the many possible reasons Jeb Bush seems to have backed off his earlier intention to endorse Mitt Romney, Politico’s Ben White received the most plausible I’ve heard.  White tweeted yesterday that he heard from people close to Bush and was told: ‘Jeb won’t endorse in part because he knows Romney needs to show he can take down Newt w/out help.’”

Mounting evidence suggests that Romney can’t make it on his own in Florida. Without the support of the popular former Florida governor, he may well go down in flames next week.

Up to now, money has been Romney’s ace in the hole, but even that advantage is slipping away from him quickly. On Tuesday, the Jerusalem Post reported that Dr. Miriam Adelson, “the wife of hotel and casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson,” will give Gingrich another $5 million to continue his battle for the GOP nomination. You can bet that if Gingrich has a strong showing in Florida, the money faucet will open up and even more dollars will flow in his direction. If Gingrich wins the Florida primary, all bets are off. That spigot will become a fire hydrant, and Romney may find himself having to dip into his own deep pockets to continue the race.

We are witnessing a tidal shift, and Gingrich is the beneficiary. Many theories have been posited to explain why Romney has had so much trouble galvanizing support. For instance, he’s a Mormon, and some people think that evangelical Christians aren’t prepared to back someone for president of the United States whose faith many of them believe is little more than a cult.  Others have argued that Romney is a RINO (Republican in name only) and that his record as governor of Massachusetts suggests that he is pro-gun control, pro-abortion, and pro-Obamacare. In other words, they think that Romney can’t be trusted no matter what he says. Still others believe that wealth envy is coming into play, and it may be, but whatever the cause is, this much is certain: Mitt Romney’s political career is in serious jeopardy.

Adding to Romney’s misery, former Senator Fred Thompson appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on Monday and endorsed Gingrich.  He said, “I have come to the growing realization that Newt Gingrich is the guy who can articulate what America is all about.” A recent Gallup poll suggests that Thompson may be right. It showed that Gingrich and Romney fare equally well against Obama.

Thomas Sowell probably put his finger on Romney’s eventual fate, though:

Just days before the South Carolina primary, polls showed Mitt Romney leading Newt Gingrich. Then came the debates and the question about Gingrich’s private life, which brought a devastating response from the former Speaker of the House — and a standing ovation from the audience.

Apparently the television audience felt the same way, judging by the huge turnaround in the support for Gingrich. The stunning victory in South Carolina brought Newt’s candidacy back to life.

But the message from South Carolina was about more than a reaction to how Gingrich dealt with a cheap shot question from the media. Nor was it simply the Republican voters’ response to Newt’s mastery as a debater.

The more fundamental message is that the Republican primary voters do not want Mitt Romney, even if the Republican establishment does — and it is just a question of which particular conservative alternative the voters prefer.

If Sowell is correct, and I think that there’s a better than even chance that he is, then if Romney doesn’t win the Florida GOP primary, he is toast. Gingrich may or may not be the eventual Republican nominee because we’re already hearing talk about drafting Jeb Bush or Mitch Daniels, but this much is becoming crystal clear: the Republican faithful don’t want Mitt Romney to become their nominee.

Neil Snyder is a chaired professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily. His latest book is titled "If You Voted for Obama in 2008 to Prove You’re Not a Racist, You Need to Vote for Someone Else in 2012 to Prove You’re Not an Idiot".
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