Don’t pay any attention to all the political pundits and cable news talking heads speculating about a brokered convention in Tampa. While the Republican nomination fight is as interesting and as volatile as it has ever been, it’s too early to spend time talking about possible convention scenarios.
The Arizona and Michigan primaries next Tuesday will kick-off a series of contests that could render all the talk of a brokered convention null and void. While none of the candidates are currently projecting a lot of strength, wins create momentum. Wins help a candidate rise in the polls, which also creates momentum.
Every candidate needs momentum to win. Romney needs momentum to dry up his opponents fundraising ability. His opponents need momentum to raise money for their campaigns and affiliated Super PACs. Without money, it’s impossible to run a campaign in multiple states, which is required at this stage of the process.
Thursday’s debate in Arizona was the last major event besides an actual primary or caucus that could alter the course of the race. That debate, and the results from next week’s primaries in Arizona and Michigan, will alter the race before ten states vote on Super Tuesday on March 6th. With that in mind, let’s look at how the remaining candidates are positioned as we enter into this critical stage of the race.
Since getting swept by Rick Santorum in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri on February 7th, the Romney campaign was out of sorts for the two weeks that followed. Romney began to rebound as Santorum got bogged down on social issues, but it was Thursday’s debate that reenergized the Romney campaign.
Romney has huge advantages over the rest his opponents. Unlike Gingrich, Paul and Santorum, he has a large staff and a well funded Super PAC that makes running a campaign in multiple states much easier. While other candidates are forced to scrape together enough money to place TV ads, the Romney effort has been able to place ad buys wherever necessary throughout the campaign. Even while some establishment Republican began to talk about Romney’s inability to secure the nomination, he has always maintained his money advantage over the rest of the field.
Santorum’s less than perfect showing in the debate combined with an aggressive performance by Romney provided a little momentum for Romney before next Tuesday’s contests. Romney’s debate performance probably helps him the most in Arizona, where he was already leading, but the positive news from the debate will also help him elsewhere.
While Romney is likely to see an uptick, he’s not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination. Romney’s problem throughout the campaign is that he has been unable to seal the deal with conservative voters, and thus, can’t secure the nomination.
Super Tuesday is also not all that favorable to Romney. He should get big wins in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia, but the remaining seven states could prove to be difficult. What Romney desperately needs is big wins in Arizona and Michigan, which may create enough momentum for him to win a state like Ohio. If Romney wins Michigan and Ohio, he will once again be able to make the case that he is the inevitable nominee.
Many pundits have pointed out that Santorum and Newt Gingrich both still being in the race at this stage makes it easier for Romney to divide the conservative vote and win, but it also means he has to fight a two front war. Having to campaign against both Santorum and Gingrich in states makes things more complicated and expensive for Romney.
Rick Santorum had a not-so-great debate on Thursday, and it capped a week of bad media coverage for the underdog frontrunner. Santorum didn’t do anything to help himself in the debate, which will probably hurt him the most in Arizona where his campaign has not dedicated many resources. While the debate was bad for Santorum, it’s too early to write him off.
Besides Romney, only Santorum and his Super PAC who have been able to campaign and run ads in the Super Tuesday states. He also has solid leads in the polls in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. With only Santorum and Romney actively campaigning in Arizona and Michigan, it’s going to be difficult for Gingrich to generate any momentum before Super Tuesday besides the bump he got from the debate. That helps Santorum greatly, but he still needs to perform well and pick up delegates in Michigan.
Regardless of what happened in the debate, if Santorum is able to beat Romney in Michigan, Santorum will once again have a full head of steam coming into Super Tuesday. That kind of momentum could even help him challenge Gingrich in his home state of Georgia, where he trails in the polls by less than five points.
Between now and Tuesday, Santorum has to find a way to change the narrative following the debate. If he is able to dust himself off and get back up, he could basically make this a two-person race. All that said, Santorum made things much more difficult for himself with his debate performance.
Gingrich breathed some life into his candidacy with another one of his classic debate performances. Another advantage for Gingrich is that the biggest prize on Super Tuesday is his home state of Georgia. If Gingrich is able to generate enough buzz, he may also surprise in some other the other southern states that day.
The problem for Gingrich is resources. While the media went crazy over Sheldon Adelson’s remarks that he “may” give Gingrich’s Super PAC another $10 to $100 million, he actually needs to cut the check for it to help Gingrich. For Gingrich to be competitive, he needs to be able to run TV ads in multiple states. Neither Gingrich nor his Super PAC have indicated that they will be able to run TV ads like Santorum and Romney currently are doing.
The Gingrich campaign has said that they will be airing 30 minute infomercials in various TV markets in Super Tuesday states, it’s an unconventional approach that would likely only appeal to people who find themselves watching CSPAN on a regular basis. Gingrich can reemerge, but to do so, he needs to have a paid media presence. Otherwise, he’s going to be drowned out in every state except Georgia by Romney and Santorum. Gingrich also runs the risk of even losing Georgia if he’s not on TV there. That will be especially true if Santorum can regain some of his momentum.
Paul doesn’t seem overly interested in winning anything besides uncommitted delegates in caucus states. Paul is still a factor in the race, but more for his willingness to provide aide and comfort to Romney by attacking Santorum or Gingrich than anything else.
Frontrunner: Mitt Romney
Serious Challenger: Rick Santorum
Dark Horse: Newt Gingrich
Non-Factor: Ron Paul
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com