BOSTON — Could Mitt Romney finally be on his way to securing the Republican presidential nomination? That’s the question hotly discussed in political circles from coast to coast.
But for Romney, the campaign fight continues. Fresh off his triple victories in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C., this week, Romney is campaigning in Pennsylvania — the next big prize.
We asked our political team — Republican Todd Domke and Democrat Dan Payne — what Romney’s mounting victories mean, and we started by asking Dan if Romney is now the de facto nominee.
Payne: Yes he is. But he has to walk a fine line for the next several months. If he moves too far to the center, if he “Etch-a-Sketches” his way into the middle, then he’ll have problems again with conservatives.
Domke: I agree with Dan that he can’t act like the presumptuous nominee; he has to act like the presumptive nominee: confident, but not arrogant. And he does seem unstoppable. But Rick Santorum probably hopes that as we’ve seen time after time earlier in this process, that Romney will commit some terrible gaffe and suddenly seem vulnerable and conservatives will rally around him. But at this point, he seems more delusional than a serious threat.
Oakes: Seems inevitable that Santorum is going to stay in at least until his home state Pennsylvania primary later this month, but I see that the latest polls even have Romney ahead of Santorum there. So if you’re Santorum at this moment, what are you playing for — a possible vice presidential nod?
Domke: He would like to end up as the clear second, as the runner-up to Romney, no question about it. So if Romney then loses in 2012, Santorum probably hopes to run himself again in 2016
Payne: You know, the Republican party is a take-your-turn party, so it would be his turn to run in 2016 just as it was Romney’s turn to run this time.
Neither of you mentioned Santorum as a vice presidential nominee under Romney, so let me open up the question further. Who do you think Romney’s going to go after as a running mate?
Domke: Yeah, I don’t think Romney will be considering Santorum, who after all has said Romney is a liar without any core convictions. Romney will be torn between being very risk-averse and picking someone like Rob Portman, the Ohio senator who has great experience in the federal government and is very safe. Or someone like Marco Rubio who is fairly new as a senator from Florida, but very telegenic, very articulate. He’ll also consider Rep. Paul Ryan, despite the controversy that would generate.
…Regarding Ryan’s controversial federal budget plan with its deep cuts in social programs, its Medicare overhaul, President Obama called the package “social Darwinism” and “a radical vision” that will deepen inequality in America. On the other hand, Romney praised the budget plan and defended Ryan, saying unlike this president, Ryan has the courage to offer serious solutions to the problems we face.
What do you think this skirmish says about the full campaign that we’re going to experience probably between these two men, Obama and Romney?
Payne: I think it’s going to be sharp, it’s going to be frequently critical. Each of them in a weird way is trying to make the general election a referendum on the other. So it’s going to be a contest over the individuals and their trustworthiness and their ability to deliver on what they say on the campaign trail.
Domke: I think that’s right. Liberal Democrats aren’t that enthusiastic about Obama, because he didn’t really live up to the expectations of hope and change. And conversely, the Republicans aren’t thrilled with Romney, so we’re going to see a fight where the only way Romney can win is to really offer a more positive vision with specific solutions that convince people that he really knows how to rejuvenate the economy.
Payne: And you know, Romney never did that in the primary. He was never able to say positively what he would do as president. Romney had millions of dollars to spend on TV commercials and he did not use that money to promote his own candidacy.
Domke: No, I agree.
Payne: He used it overwhelmingly to attack his opponents
Domke: That’s true, and it shows up in his unfavorables. When you look back at other presidential contenders, he’s in a terribly weak position with high unfavorables because he did just go negative. And he’s got a lot of work to do for the general.
But some would argue that the signs are there that it’s not an impossible climb. We have firm $4 gasoline now, and there was something about what happened last week with that huge national lottery thing. There were just millions of people buying lottery tickets before the big drawing was held. And many people believe what drove those folks to the lottery lines was the feeling that there’s no way out of their personal economic morass other than a miracle.
Payne: Obama definitely has an opponent in this race that’s serious, and that opponent is the economy. That includes gas prices, unemployment, housing starts and foreclosures. These are all factors in his re-election, and if he can’t figure out how to deal with these things, then he’s going to have a hard time. And that doesn’t have really anything to do with Romney; it’s simply the conditions in the country.
Domke: If you look at Obama’s numbers, you see he’s under 50 percent, which shows real weakness for an incumbent president. And again, it’s mostly the economic reasons, which Dan cites. So he’s really vulnerable. It’s just that Romney is so weak, that what he went through in this Republican process was so debilitating, that he’s is farther behind than you would think.
So Todd, you’re saying it’s hopeless or not hopeless for Romney?
Domke: I think Romney still has a good chance to pull this out, not so much because of his strengths, but because of Obama’s weaknesses. People still feel dispirited about this economy. If he offers a plan that sounds convincing as to restoring American confidence and getting the economy going at a better clip, I think he could pull this out.
Payne: Romney does not have a substantive case against Obama. And what happened in the primaries is that the core of his argument was Bain Capital: I created jobs. Well that got destroyed, and hurt him badly.
Domke: I think people will look much more at the macro-economy than Bain Capital did in past years. They want to know, “How will this affect me directly?”