romney folds

Posted on February 7, 2008

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Former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney has thrown in the towel in the presidential race for the Republican party’s nomination, after a disappointing showing in the Super Tuesday primaries.

His action clears the path for current front-runner John McCain to be the party’s virtually undisputed nominee in November’s elections, while sparing the party of a bruising fight – a situation that the rival Democratic party is facing, as both its contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are still neck-and-neck in the battle for their party’s delegates and nomination.

(photo from mittromney.com)

One other contender remains in the Republican race, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who did surprisingly well in the Super Tuesday race, not only siphoning votes from both McCain and Romney but winning a number of significant states in the South. But Huckabee, even less so than Romney, does not realistically have a shot at winning the party’s nomination, despite demonstrating tremendous campaigning skills and finding resonance with evangelical voters in the bible-belt.

It would be interesting to see what Huckabee would do now that Romney is out of the picture – step aside or join McCain’s ticket?

Despite his massive personal wealth, which Romney has employed to try to crush his opponents and win the nomination, his campaign has never quite taken off. Romney has spent more than all his rivals combined, aggressively buying ads and building organizations across the country but his investment has not paid off.

“I must now stand aside, for our party and our country,” Romney told the delegates at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference in Washington, D.C. “If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win.”

It is interesting that a person with the breadth of Romney’s executive experience and qualities – successful businessman at Bain, rescuer of the 2002 Winter Olympics, leader of the state of Massachusetts, who is intelligent and even looks presidential – could not find traction with Republican voters.

One wonders how much better he might have fared had he stuck to his strengths of being a proven business leader with wide-ranging executive experience as a platform, rather than tacking too far right and appearing like a shift-shaping flip-flopper to please the Republican base.

Even though Romney sold his soul and changed his stand on abortion from being pro-choice to pro-life, he only drew derision. In a year when voters on both sides are tired of politics as usual and personality trumps issues, voters had been flocking to McCain, who is viewed as being steadfast and true to himself, even if he is not quite conservative enough for many Republicans.

Romney’s Mormon faith is another huge stumbling block – proof that the evangelical wing of the Republican party, though diminished, still holds hefty clout and acted as a deterrent against Romney’s success. In a party where religion is one of the paramount pillars and Mormonism is still viewed as a cult in some quarters, Romney needed all the charisma, and pandering he could summon to sway the base, but ultimately could not, despite his “Mormon speech” last year.

It did not help that there was the sudden rise of Huckabee, a Southern Baptist preacher by training, who thrilled crowds with his folksy ways, witty humor and soaring speeches. Huckabee came from nowhere to propel himself into the equation when he stunned the establishment by winning Iowa, and claimed five states on Super Tuesday. Huckabee, despite kooky stands like his rejection of evolution and a campaign to get rid of income taxes (or perhaps because of them), has won large swaths of the South and evangelicals, although he has no money and not much of an organization.

Romney also has himself to blame. He was the one candidate among the Republican slate that ran numerous attack ads on his rivals and persisted in negative campaigning, earning himself the role of enemy number one among the other Republican contenders, as seen by how they piled on him and gave him grief during debates.

Is there also the unfortunate case of schadenfreude working against Romney? Here’s a man who has the money, the looks and the intelligence. Unlike the rest, he did not need to go begging for campaign contributions and easily dipped into his own funds to finance his bid. Romney is also good-looking, has an adoring wife, five sons and numerous grandchildren, and had always been successful in everything he seemed to touch, until his latest attempt at the presidency. It sure did not help when Huckabee quite accurately pointed out that Romney looked more like the guy who fires you than one of the guys. So among the presidential hopefuls, voters probably feel the least sympathy or empathy with him.

But it is still not all smooth-sailing for McCain. He would still have to win over his party’s conservatives to convince them to get out and vote for him in the general election, which is crucial if the Republicans intend to hold on to the White House. The Democrats are all fired up this year and with either Clinton or Obama leading the ticket, there is much excitement, and desire to cleanse themselves of the memories of the Bush years. You can bet that Democratic voters will be turning out in force.

At the end of the day, whether a Republican or a Democrat wins the White House, there will be a senator running the place, which has not happened since John F. Kennedy.

Oh, by the way, does this mean Ann Coulter will be campaigning and voting for Clinton now?

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