Tuesday evening’s tornadoes that hit the Midwest were very real, very deadly, and highly un-allegorical when placed in the context of this week’s round of Republican presidential primaries. There were no electoral tornadoes, just two victories – one admittedly more solid than the other – that brought former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney a couple dozen delegates closer to the Republican nomination.
Undoubtedly, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum had salivated at the possible irony of defeating his party rival in his birth state of Michigan, but a six-point deficit in the women’s vote prevented Santorum from savoring that particular delight. Although the woman deficit may have been a conscious or unconscious factor in the conservative candidates’ decision to mention “the men and women who signed the Declaration of Independence” (there were, of course, no woman signers), the double defeat came following a week of hard knocks for Santorum. Even Republican governors were seen edging away from some of Santorum’s more controversial statements, which further fueled his enemies’ abilities to portray him as an unelectable extremist.
In the upcoming and potentially crucial Super Tuesday states, there is one at least in which Santorum is guaranteed not to lose. Or win, for that matter.
Ironically, the Mother of Presidents, the Commonwealth of Virginia, will only feature two potential offspring on the ballot – Romney and Congressman Ron Paul. A petition-signature fiasco ensured that the contest will remain a two-horse race, after the other candidates failed to gather sufficient signatures by the deadline to make the ballot.
Virginia could become a battleground of blahs for conservative Republican voters. Romney is far from their cup of tea, but then again, so is Paul. Will they stay home? Or will they pick sides?
Paul, for whom exposure – as for also-ran Herman Cain – seemed to prove to be a double-edged sword, could become a centralizing figure for the anti-Romney camp. Thus far, the anti-Romneys have confronted a glut of alternatives, with votes split among Paul, Gingrich, and Santorum. In Virginia, however, the ballot will only contain two names, and might as well read Romney/anti-Romney.
If either Gingrich or Santorum were the lone name on the ballot opposite Romney, it could have had a greater impact. If the Gingrich voters were forced to vote for Santorum, or vice-versa, the joint mobilization might send a message – and a few anti-Romney delegates to the GOP convention. With Paul, however, even the most fervent anti-Romneys might have trouble casting a ballot. Paul’s isolationism, libertarianism, and yes, hands-off strategy toward Iran and Israel alike, may cost him dearly in the Virginia poll. And a defeat for Paul means more electoral votes for Romney.
Virginia may not make headlines on Super Tuesday; the most likely outcome is that the state will blend in to a number of Romney victories, and will just become another few votes in a growing electoral pool for the former Massachusetts governor.
But in a state teetering on the brink of purple-dom, ballot-box blahs could be bad news for the GOP. While the state Republicans could benefit from the lack of dirty internecine campaigning a la South Carolina, it also means that the Republican candidates are less visible, doing less campaigning and raising less excitement in the state that commands the heights over DC. Nevertheless, observers would do well to take at least a passing glance at Virginia next week, as a gauge of how apt conservative critics are when they complain that voters are loathe to support Romney. On the other hand, barring a shocking Paul turnaround, it seems that in Virginia, Romney simply can’t lose.