Now that it appears that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has survived a Republican presidential nomination race that was more like a battle of attrition, the real contest is set to begin.
Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania, dropped out of the GOP presidential on Tuesday, clearing out what seemed to be the final possible barrier to Romney’s nomination at the Republican national convention. Santorum was facing a make-or-break primary in his home state in two weeks, and the numbers weren’t looking good for him.
In fact, the numbers hadn’t looked good for some weeks. With 1,151 GOP convention delegates left to allocate, Santorum would have needed to win three out of every four to win the nomination. Romney already is 651 delegates toward the 1,144 needed to win, which means he only needs to claim less than 44 percent of what remains to take the nomination. Targeted by his Republican challengers, Romney has claimed 57 percent of the delegates so far in the primaries and caucuses.
Still, the intraparty competition went longer than many expected, largely because the Republicans’ conservative base is less than enamored with Romney in comparison to Santorum, Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose candidacy seemed at first to burn bright though it proved instead to be a flashfire.
While conservatives may not be sold on Romney, they still like him much better than President Barack Obama. Given the lightning rod that Obama has become as the target of criticism from conservatives, odds are they will rally behind a candidate they don’t particularly care for to defeat an incumbent who they really don’t like. It’s unlikely they’ll sit the election out and give Obama an easy return to Pennsylvania Avenue.
It’s also a certainty that Santorum, Gingrich and Paul will work the convention to push for their issues to be included as planks in the Republican campaign platform.
Already, focus on Romney is aimed at who he will choose as his vice presidential running mate, with the obvious choice being someone popular with conservatives to shore up the party’s base. Names have been bandied about, with the candidate of the day being U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Ryan said Tuesday he hasn’t given any thought to the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket, but he had some kind remarks for Romney, saying he reminded him of an “earnest, upper Midwest person” who “has the principles, the skills” to lead the nation.
Romney will need all the support he can get. He enjoyed a huge spending advantage over his Republican opponents and a much larger campaign organization. He finds himself in the role of financial underdog in a head-to-head race against Obama, whose $84 million campaign war chest dwarfs the $7.2 million the Romney campaign still has in the bank. Obama also has five paid campaign staff workers for every one the former governor has.
The sniping between the Obama and Romney campaigns has been going on for some time now, but with Santorum’s departure Obama will no doubt pick up the pace. It’s fitting that the heat normally reserved for summer got here early, just in time for a long, bitter campaign season.