The Maine Event?
There are now two weeks until the next elections in Michigan and Arizona, states that Mitt Romney must be looking to win handsomely if he is to move into Super Tuesday with any real sense of momentum
So far the one thing, perhaps even the only thing, that can be said with any certainty is that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the Republican primary season. Of the elections to date, victories have been achieved by Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and the presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney. Of the four national candidates, only Congressman Ron Paul has failed to win a single state.
Romney's inability to put together a string of successive victories and thereby gain the necessary momentum heading into the Super Tuesday elections in March have given pundits and pollsters cause for concern. This has rightly caused questions to be asked about his overall appeal to the conservative base, his capacity to win the nomination, unite the Republican Party and to adequately challenge Barack Obama in the general election in November.
However, despite Romney's most recent setbacks in failing to win any of the three states that voted on Tuesday (Nevada, Minnesota and Missouri) he has had a great Saturday night, winning in the two contests that were held; one official, the other less so, but equally telling in its own right.
In the north east state of Maine, Republicans have been gathering in caucuses over the past few days to offer up their view on who the Republican nominee should be. The saying states, "as goes Maine, as goes the nation." On that basis the results are clear, though the basis for such a conclusion is problematic.
Mitt Romney certainly won the Maine caucuses, taking 39 percent of the votes, but with participation at only 5,500, the enthusiasm he has generated amongst Republican Party enthusiasts must surely be questioned. To place this in context, over 120,000 Iowans voted in the January caucuses.
The turnout also bears considering when contemplating the strong second place finish by Congressman Ron Paul, who achieved 36 percent; three points behind Romney, but separated by only 209 votes. Also of note, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich had chosen not to campaign heavily in Maine, giving Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and therefore a local candidate, a free run at securing a great victory. Clearly this has not happened to the degree he had hoped for.
Romney may have won the state, but his inability to seal the deal with over 60 percent of voters will be a major source of concern to this campaign. In contrast, Ron Paul, who has focused on those states that hold caucuses as opposed to primary elections, insisted that his revolution was only just beginning.
His strategy is not necessarily to win state elections, but to continue the process of picking up delegates state by state, vote by vote, due to the proportional representation system that has been introduced this year. He won't win the nomination, but his ability to influence the Republican Party platform in the summer should not be underestimated. Neither should his potential to run as a third party candidate.
The other important vote cast on Saturday night came at CPAC, the conservative gathering in Washington, DC. The delegates had heard speeches from the great and the good of the American right for the last few days and in a straw poll of 3,408, endorsed Mitt Romney with 38 percent, almost identical to his rating in Maine.
Unlike in previous years when Rom Paul had been the darling of CPAC, the Texan congressman came in a disappointing fourth with 12 percent, behind Rick Santorum on 21 percent and Newt Gingrich on 15 percent. This was particularly disappointing for Santorum, who had been favourite heading into the straw poll and would have been looking to build upon his three victories from earlier in the week.
The importance of CPAC to the Republican conservative movement should not be overlooked, with many presidential candidates prioritising an appearance here, rather than in Maine, hoping to capitalise on a strong showing in the non-binding straw poll. The fact that Romney won the poll is indicative of the caution that is being exhibited by delegates and Republicans nationwide this year. Few are enamoured with the field of candidates, and to many, Romney is simply the least bad option.
Romney sought to play to the crowd, referring to himself as having been a 'severely conservative' governor who had been on the front lines of the battle. He may have won the battle at CPAC, but his capacity to win the war in November appears to be far from certain.
Certainly Newt Gingrich has fared poorly since his strong showing in South Carolina and his forward momentum appears to be being propelled only by his ego at present. His downward spiral is being shared with the former darling of the Tea Party movement, Sarah Palin, who also spoke at CPAC. Despite having thrown her support behind Newt Gingrich recently, she steadfastly refused to make an open endorsement, insisting only that whoever the candidate was, the Party "must work together to defend the republic." Whatever that means...
If the odds are looking longer and longer for a potential Republican victory in November, then perhaps the most interesting result out of CPAC may have been their preference for a potential vice president, with Marco Rubio of Florida edging out New Jersey's Chris Christie. The degree to which either individual will wish to be associated with an apparently doomed campaign, however, remains far from certain.
With Saturday night's voting concluded there are now two weeks until the next elections in Michigan and Arizona, states that Mitt Romney must be looking to win handsomely if he is to build upon this week's success and move into Super Tuesday with any real sense of momentum.
Dr. James D. Boys is an Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond, the American International University in London. See his website at www.jamesdboys.com and follow him on twitter @jamesdboys
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