And then there was one (and a half and a half)

The Passover seder is full of counting songs and lists – and one list got significantly shorter during the holiday week.  This week the Republican field narrowed from four to one-and-two-halves, with Rick Santorum calling it quits and Newt Gingrich struggling to assert his relevance, both ideologically and fiscally. Ron Paul, of course, is still in it for the long haul.

For weeks, some Republican primary analysts – and voters - had expressed hope that the party’s conservative base would pick one contender, rather than dividing support between Gingrich and Santorum. Polls seemed to support Santorum rather than Gingrich as the Chosen One, but it is now Gingrich, not Santorum, who is the self-appointed “last conservative standing.” 
Santorum did not endorse any of the remaining candidates when he suspended his campaign, leaving his voter bloc – approximately 25% of Republican primary voters – up for grabs. A unified conservative front could mean trouble for Romney. Although the former Massachusetts governor clearly leads in delegates to the GOP convention, the party’s popular votes tell a different story: combined, Gingrich and Santorum voters outnumber Romney voters in the popular vote by almost one million votes.
But If Gingrich is going to scoop up homeless Santorumites, he has a major obstacle to overcome: his bank account.
Gingrich’s campaign fund is running dry. Newt urged Santorum’s former supporters to start shelling out, a particularly urgent message in a week when a Gingrich campaign check for the $500 dollar Utah primary filing fee bounced. The Gingrich campaign has allegedly amassed nearly $4.5 million in debt.
Sheldon Adelson, a major donor to a Gingrich-affiliated PAC, said two weeks ago that Gingrich seemed to be “at the end of his line,” but the casino mogul caged his assessment on the unlikelihood that Gingrich could emerge on top in a brokered GOP convention. Adelson and his family have thus far donated well over $10 million to Gingrich, meaning that he could conceivably take out the candidate’s entire debt. If he saw Gingrich as viable, that is.
Gingrich is in a tough place, possibly his toughest ever on this campaign trail. After laying off one-third of his campaign staff and admitting to cutting down on travel to cut costs, he has suddenly emerged as the only conservative alternative to Romney. But if Adelson – and Santorum voters’ – reticence is any indication, Gingrich will only receive continued support – and critical funds – if he shows that he is a viable candidate.
To simplify things, Gingrich is only a viable alternative if he is a viable alternative.
In the meantime, Romney turned this week toward attacking President Barack Obama, returning to a pre-primary strategy of acting as if his nomination is a given.
Further evidence of this strategy of presenting himself as a shadow president was evident (to tie it back to the Pesach theme) in the  Passover announcement posted on his campaign’s Website one week ago.
“This Friday night, Jews around the world will join with their families and friends to observe the holiday of Passover. This ancient celebration of freedom reminds us that free people everywhere have a stake in ending oppression. Ann joins me in wishing everyone sitting down for a Passover Seder a joyous time with family and friends.”
Presidentially non-partisan? Yes. Dry as last year’s matzah? Well, yes. But with Santorum out, Gingrich running on empty, and Paul…off doing something, somewhere with very little media attention, that might well be the best strategy for the front-runner. Act like an alternative to the president, and maybe people will believe that you are one.
In any case, National Zoo wishes all a happy end-of-Passover and a great Maimuna, too
(Rebecca Anna Stoil)