That Rick Santorum won big last night is a fact that cannot be denied. Voters in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado chose him, at times by a wide margin, over every other GOP primary candidate. Clearly now, Santorum has gained momentum that exceeds even that which he garnered with his earlier victory in the Iowa caucuses. Another fact from last night that cannot be denied is that Mitt Romney lost, and he lost big. After riding the mantra of “electability,” that at times seemed to approach inevitability, the man who gave us Romneycare went down in flames in flyover country. And while his campaign and the Republican establishment will surely do all they can to make the losses look less important than they were, it’s axiomatic that a man who can’t win in flyover country in a man who can’t be the GOP candidate.
Now, I don’t have a crystal ball, so I’m not saying that Romney won’t pick up a win in flyover country at some point. But I am saying that last night, Colorado, one the states that should have been a shoe-in for him based on his numbers in 2008 and his religious affiliation, went to a more socially conservative candidate. (Even the democraticunderground.com noticed that Romney’s numbers in the most conservative of countieswere down from 70% in 2008 to less than 50% last night.)
In explaining how last night happened the way it did, I go back to the exchanges between Santorum and Romney during the South Carolina debate earlier this year. No one, to that point, had stood toe to toe with Romney and forced listeners to truly consider the similarities between Romneycare and Obamacare. But Santorum did. And when Romney contended that Romneycare was working pretty well for the citizens of Massachusetts and that he was pretty proud of what they’d done there, Santorum replied: “What Gov. Romney just said is that government-run, top-down medicine is working pretty well in Massachusetts and he supports it. Now, think about what that means.”
People are thinking about it, and all the candidates have to remember that Obamacare will never be popular in flyover country because it is a freedom-robbing mechanism.
Likewise, its precursor, Romneycare, has been an albatross around Romney’s neck since Santorum drug it out into the light for all to see.
And the similarities between Romney and Obama don’t stop with their approach to healthcare. For example, on global warming they are very similar, and on issues like the 2nd Amendment–which is the issue to some citizens in flyover country–Romney has a checkered past at best. (It’s been widely publicized that Romney supported the assault weapons ban as Gov. of Massachusetts and just last week, Attorney General Eric Holder told congressional investigators that the Obama administration would like to see that ban re-implemented.) Then of course there’s the issue of pro-life v. pro-choice, which is so crucial in flyover country. And between Newt Gingrich’s ads highlighting Romney’s support of abortion as Massachusetts Gov. and Santorum’s consistent, unapologetic pro-life stances, it’s not hard to see how this issue would have contributed to Romney’s losses last night.
The bottom line: Perhaps Romney’s best night is yet to come, but then again, perhaps it came in Florida. Who knows? The one thing that is knowable right now is that Romney is going to have to appeal to the folks in flyover country if he’s going to have any chance of getting the GOP nomination.