Mitt Romney’s trifecta of losses this week to Rick Santorum exposes lingering questions about his campaign strategy, his appeal to the Republican conservative base and his changing positions on such issues as abortion rights and immigration.
That doesn’t mean he won’t win his party’s presidential nomination.
With 15 primaries and caucuses scheduled during the next month, Santorum and Romney’s two other rivals in the Republican race have yet to show they can turn momentum into the millions of dollars needed to run simultaneous campaigns across the country. So far, only Romney has the money and manpower for the long haul -- even though he’s won fewer than half of the eight contests that began with the lead-off Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.
Following Santorum’s Feb. 7 victories in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota, Romney supporters remained confident that victory for the former Massachusetts governor was just a few weeks away.
“I don’t think anybody but Romney can be, will be, or should be our nominee,” said Fred Malek, a Republican fundraiser who has helped raise money for Romney. “We’ve had flavor of the month and Santorum is the new flavor, but I think Romney will prevail.”
Romney ended 2011 with $20 million in his campaign bank account, compared to $2.1 million for former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, $1.9 million for U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, and $278,935 for Santorum, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Restore Our Future, a group run by Romney backers, had an additional $23.6 million at the end of the year.
That financial strength gives Romney the capability to advertise heavily and cripple any of his rivals.
Before Florida’s Jan. 31 primary, Romney and his allies overwhelmed Gingrich with television ads attacking his record and character, outspending him more than 6-to-1, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, a firm that tracks the commercials. Romney won the primary by 14 percentage points.
With Santorum on the rise, Romney is redirecting his campaign firepower.
Speaking in Atlanta yesterday, he cast Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, and Gingrich as big-spending Washington insiders.
“Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich, they are the very Republicans who acted like Democrats,” Romney said. “And when Republicans act like Democrats, they lose.”
Romney’s competitors have most of the rest of this month to try to upend Romney in contests in which he is favored: Feb. 28 primaries in Arizona and Michigan. Those contests will garner more attention than this week’s trio because of the size of Michigan, the nation’s eighth most populous state, and Arizona, the 16th.
Romney has advantages in both states. Born in Michigan, he was raised in a Detroit suburb and his father, George, served as the state’s governor.
In Arizona, his get-tough stance on illegal immigration should help in a state where Republican officials passed a new measure that gives law enforcement officers wider latitude to identify non-residents. The measure is being challenged by President Barack Obama’s administration. Arizona also has a sizable Mormon population, whose members tend to vote in high numbers for Romney, a prominent member of the church.
Santorum said yesterday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program that he would seek to make a stand in Michigan and try to exceed expectations in that state. The state combines a working-class constituency and a large Catholic population that could make it receptive to his persona and his focus on such issues as banning abortion.
Michigan also will allocate its convention delegates proportionally, meaning candidates that don’t finish first can gain some, while Arizona is a winner-take-all contest.
Santorum, Gingrich and Paul all are looking ahead to Super Tuesday -- March 6, when 11 primary and caucuses will be held -- as an opportunity to accrue delegates through the proportional allotment of delegates.
In interviews yesterday, Santorum expressed confidence that his wins this week would give his candidacy an infusion of cash.
“I think last night we raised a quarter of a million dollars on-line,” Santorum said on CNN. “We are going to have the money we need to make the case we want to make.”
Gingrich committed limited resources to Feb. 7’s three contests, none of which allocated any of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination. On the day of the votes, he campaigned in Ohio, site of a Super Tuesday primary. He also will focus on the March 6 primary in Georgia, his home state.
Gingrich and Santorum failed to meet the qualification requirements to appear on Virginia’s Super Tuesday primary ballot, so that’s one state where they won’t compete and Romney will square-off solely against Paul.
The dueling Santorum and Gingrich strategies could help Romney by continuing to divide the bloc of social and fiscal conservatives who have yet to rally around his candidacy.
Romney led with 35 percent in the most recent national Gallup poll of Republican voters conducted Jan. 30 through Feb. 3, followed by Gingrich at 24 percent, Santorum at 16 percent and Paul at 12 percent.
Since 1976, the Republican candidate who led in Gallup’s first polling in February has always gone on to win the party’s nomination, the polling company based in Princeton, New Jersey, said in a statement.