Bill Whalen

Some Dreams Die Harder Than Others

On the same day that the good people of Illinois went to the polls, Pope Shenouda III, head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, was laid to rest after a funeral Mass in Cairo.

His successor will be chosen as follows:

Three candidates will come forward as finalists. Each name is written on a piece of paper, those three ballots then placed in a hat. A young boy (I’m not making this up) will be blindfolded, then told to reach into the hat and pull out one ballot.

The man whose name happens to be on that piece of paper becomes the new pope.

There’s no word yet if the GOP plans to adopt this system for 2016.

For the past month or so, I’ve had a recurring dream. And it goes something like this:

It’s Tuesday night, voters have gone to the polls, and I’m watching Mitt Romney give a “victory” speech.

Only, once he’s done speaking, the media soon convince me that Romney’s declaration deserves an asterisk, at best.

Maybe he got the evening’s most votes, and perhaps even the most delegates, but there’s something troubling about Romney’s performance (though he’s now carried 21 of the GOP 33 contests to date). And so the dream goes.

Sarcasm aside, this dream has been the Republicans’ uneasy reality going back to the night of Feb. 28 and the GOP primary in Michigan, where native son Romney prevailed by all of 32,000 votes – 3.2% of the popular take.

A week later, Romney “won” the Super Tuesday vote in that he came away with both the biggest number of delegates and the night’s biggest prize: Ohio. But again, the asterisk: Romney carried Ohio by a scant 10,000 votes (a margin of less than 1%).

From Super Tuesday, it was on to the following Tuesday and the pupu platter of Alabama, Mississippi, Hawaii and American Samoa. Romney garnered 40 delegates to Santorum’s 38 – technically, a number more important than winning fewer states. Yet, once again, the buzz was the frontrunner underperforming.

The buzz was nowhere to be found on Tuesday night in Illinois. Romney carried a large, hodgepodge state – just like Florida, Ohio and Michigan. Nothing new there.

Only, for the first time since winning big in Florida back on Jan. 31 (46.4% to Newt Gingrich’s 31.9%), Romney could point to both quality (47% of the popular vote in Illinois) and quantity (at least 41 delegates, putting Romney about hallway to the 1,144 needed for the nomination).

Takeaways:

  1. Might Proves Right. Different state, same formula; Caesar would have been proud. Romney came, he saw, he conquered. But most of all, he and his super PAC friends spent – perhaps seven times what Santorum invested in Illinois media markets (btw, Obama strategist David Axelrod is claiming Romney outspent Santorum 21-1 in Chicago). It was enough to sell the economic/electability message to white-collar Republicans around Chicagoland, plus slam his more conservative rival in radio ads statewide as someone “who’s never run a business or a state” and just “another economic lightweight”. Though turnout was alarmingly low (the first Illinois primary since 2000 not to include a race for governor or U.S. Senator), the money advantage finally paid the kind of dividend that Team Romney was hoping for – but very publicly failed to achieve – in the two previous Midwestern showdowns.
  2. Santorum Is Running Against Mitt . . . and Rick. Back when newspapers ruled the jungle, the adage was never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. In the Information Age, it would be: avoid a spat with someone with a Web site that drives more traffic than Facebook. Why, then, would Santorum suggest that Matt Drudge and his eponymous Report are in the tank for Romney? Is it coincidence that, after his impartiality was attacked, Drudge posted a most unflattering photo of Santorum sunbathing in Puerto Rico and, a few days later, a screaming headline revisiting Santorum’s endorsement of Romney back in 2008? Part of the election post mortem is certain to dwell on Santorum’s ill-advised decision to campaign in Puerto Rico last week instead of focusing on the more winnable, strategically important Illinois. Nor did it help than Santorum got into a language flap in Puerto Rico and made a klutzy aside about unemployment in Illinois. But getting into a feud with The Drudge Report? Dumb move.
  3. Don’t Give Up the Dream – Just Yet. The Republican road show’s next stop is this Saturday in Louisiana – that state’s biggest presidential primary since 1996, when Patrick Buchanan squashed then-Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, setting up Buchanan as the conservative alternative to Bob Dole in that year’s race. Romney, who’s coming into Louisiana only on the day before the vote (translation: downplaying expectations) would like to campaign with Drew Brees, not to mention the still-undecided Gov. Bobby Jindal. He might have to settle for the state’s lieutenant governor and ag commissioner. If Santorum (or Gingrich) somehow finds new life in the Pelican State, the road takes the candidates to Maryland, the District of Columbia and Wisconsin – all on April 3. The first two are safely in the Romney camp. Wisconsin’s another matter. Another Tuesday, another complex state chock full of urban and rural voters. Not to mention a strong religious base and the same dynamics of Romney outspending and attempting to outmaneuver Santorum. All followed by a media jury voting to convict or acquit Romney of underperforming.

Proving only: some dreams die harder than others.

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