The problem with being a Massachusetts Mormon

Southern evangelicals spoil Mitt's Super Tuesday -- and his hopes of ending this painful process any time soon

Topics: Opening Shot,

The problem with being a Massachusetts Mormon Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann wave to supporters at his Super Tuesday campaign rally in Boston, Tuesday night, March 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia) (Credit: AP)

The good news for Mitt Romney is that he avoided the perception of a total meltdown on Tuesday night, preventing (just barely) Rick Santorum from scoring a victory in Ohio, the day’s signature contest. Plus, Romney was the clear winner in the night’s delegate race, adding to his lead in the battle that ultimately matters the most.

But Super Tuesday was still a failure for the former Massachusetts governor, who missed an opportunity to deliver a psychological knockout blow that would have convinced the political world to treat the GOP nomination as a settled matter.

This is no small matter for Romney, since the primary race is draining his resources, forcing him to pander to a party base that’s deeply out of step with the fall electorate, and generally soiling his image with swing voters. Romney’s failure Tuesday night ensures that this painful process will continue to enjoy the national spotlight for the foreseeable future.

And things are probably going to get worse for him before they get better. The reason can be found in the demographic formula that haunted him on Tuesday night – and that looms in most of the contests remaining on this month’s calendar: The more evangelical, Southern, rural and conservative an electorate is, the worse Romney does.

Take Tennessee, where Romney lost by 9 points to Santorum, 37 to 28 percent. That margin is probably deceptively close, a result of the 24 percent that Newt Gingrich gobbled up, something that becomes clear when you look at the exit poll data. Among the 41 percent of voters who called themselves “very conservative,” Romney actually ran third, with just 18 percent. He was also third among the 73 percent who identified as evangelicals. In other words, Romney was an afterthought to the dominant voting blocs in the state. In a two-way race, he probably would have been blown away.

Similar numbers defined the races in Oklahoma, where Romney lost by 6 points to Santorum, 34 to 28 percent, and Georgia, where favorite son Gingrich crushed Romney by 21 points.  In both states, there were large numbers of very conservative voters (47 percent of the Oklahoma electorate and 39 percent in Georgia), and Romney finished a distant third among them. He was also third among evangelicals, who accounted for 71 percent of the Oklahoma voting universe and 64 percent of Georgia’s.



Conversely, Romney won by 60 points in Massachusetts, where only 15 percent of Republicans were evangelicals and just 16 percent called themselves very conservative, and by 12 in Vermont, where the very conservative/evangelical contingents also made up less than 30 percent of the electorate. In Ohio, 46 percent were evangelicals and 31 percent were very conservative; had those numbers been any higher, Romney would have lost the state.

This is a problem that just isn’t going away for Romney. Except in states with high Mormon populations, he’s faced steady resistance from the most conservative and religious elements of the GOP.

Part of this can be traced to the radicalizing effects of the Tea Party movement, which has redefined conservatism in the Obama era and put Romney, with his moderate past and universal healthcare law in Massachusetts, on the defensive. Romney had some success running as the candidate of movement conservatives in 2008, but not this time. He evokes too many of the characteristics of the Bush-era Republicanism that the Tea Party base is at war with.

There’s something else, though, even if it’s impossible to quantify: Romney’s Mormonism, which has always made him a tough sell to the Christian right, particularly in the South, where Pentecostals and Southern Baptists are so prominent. Even in ’08, when he ran as the conservative alternative to John McCain, Romney struggled in the South, finishing far back in states with large evangelical populations.

Back then, at least, this could partly be chalked up to the presence of a Baptist preacher in the race, Mike Huckabee. But this time around, Romney’s two main foes are Roman Catholics, one with Pennsylvania roots and the other a military brat who spent some of his adult life in Georgia. He’s still failing to make inroads with Southern evangelicals, though, and it’s hard to believe his Mormon faith isn’t a big reason for this.

The best evidence in Tuesday’s exit polls may be the voters who said the candidates’ religious beliefs mattered “a great deal” to them. In Tennessee, 43 percent of the GOP primary participants said this, and they gave 52 percent of their votes to Santorum, 24 percent to Gingrich and just 17 to Romney. In Oklahoma, 30 percent said religious beliefs mattered a lot, and Santorum won 51 percent of them, with Gingrich at 23 and Romney at 18. And “great deal” voters were 37 percent of the Georgia electorate and went for Gingrich over Santorum 53 to 32 percent, with just 9 for Romney.

The problem for Romney is that the electorates of most of the upcoming contests will look a lot like this. First up are caucuses this Saturday in Kansas. Then come primaries next Tuesday in Alabama, where 77 percent of ’08 primary participants were evangelicals, and Mississippi, where the ’08 evangelical number was 69 percent. Missouri, where Santorum already crushed Romney in a non-binding primary, will hold caucuses later this month, and Louisiana (where the ’08 evangelical vote was 57 percent) will vote on March 24. Super Tuesday strongly suggests that there’s just no way Romney can win over the voters he needs in states like these. And his problem could get worse if Santorum somehow convinces Gingrich to exit the race.

This doesn’t mean Romney is suddenly in danger of losing the nomination. He has a clear delegate lead right now, and there are plenty of states that aren’t demographically off-limits to him. Illinois, for instance, also votes this month, and he should do well there. But it looks like an embarrassing string of defeats is on the horizon for Romney, one that will draw further attention to the GOP race, erode his treasury, delay his pivot to the general election, and worsen his image problem with general election voters.

So while Romney is still the likely nominee, Tuesday night made it more likely that he’ll be a wounded one.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>