The price of Mitt Romney’s “death march”

The 5 biggest Romney vulnerabilities that have been exposed by the GOP primary process

Topics: Opening Shot,

The price of Mitt Romney’s “death march”Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds a town hall meeting at Taylor Winfield in Youngstown, Ohio, Monday, March 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Credit: AP)

Barack Obama’s campaign manager and his top political advisor used a Wednesday conference call to put the most negative possible spin on the state of Mitt Romney’s campaign.

The former Massachusetts governor had just won six of the 10 Super Tuesday states and established a commanding delegate lead, but David Axelrod called the GOP primary process a “kind of death march” while  Jim Messina argued that Romney “is only limping across the finish line.” The nomination fight, they insisted, has exposed a number of weaknesses that will haunt Romney through the general election.

This is a popular view at the moment, and it’s hard to argue with it, given that the GOP’s prospects of beating Obama don’t seem nearly as bright now as they did six months ago. But the peak of a contentious primary season can be the worst time to gauge a candidate’s fall chances. Romney looks weak now, but the question is how many of his flaws – and his party’s flaws – really will play a role in the fall campaign. Here’s a look at what right now seem to be Romney’s five biggest general election headaches:

1. Low Republican turnout

Why it’s a problem for the GOP: The story of the first three years of Obama’s presidency, supposedly, was the rise of the Tea Party movement and the revival of the Republican Party base. But since the primary season kicked off in Iowa, Republican voters have seemed jarringly apathetic. In many contests, turnout has actually been down from 2008, a year when the GOP base was widely seen as unmotivated.

This trend continued on Super Tuesday, when fewer Republicans turned out in Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma than in ’08. And while turnout was slightly up in Ohio, it came with an asterisk: The ’08 contest was later in the process, when the field had been thinned and John McCain had already emerged as the presumptive nominee. And then there’s this, from an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this week:



Additionally, when asked to describe the GOP nominating battle in a word or phrase, nearly 70 percent of respondents – including six in 10 independents and even more than half of Republicans – answered with a negative comment.

Some examples of these negative comments from Republicans: “Unenthusiastic,” “discouraged,” “lesser of two evils,” “painful,” “disappointed,” “poor choices,” “concerned,” “underwhelmed,” “uninspiring” and “depressed.

At the outset of this race, it was assumed that Republicans would benefit from an enthusiasm gap in a race against Obama; the lack of interest in the primary contest, though, has thrown that into question.

Why it may be overstated: Because even if their own crop of candidates doesn’t do anything for them, Republican voters still can’t stand Obama. The opportunity to vote against him in the fall may be all the motivation they need.

2. Independents don’t like Mitt

Why it’s a problem: Since the primary season began, Romney negative ratings with independent voters have soared, and his standing among them in head-to-head match-ups with Obama has fallen markedly. Moreover, Romney has failed to win the independent vote in nine of the 13 GOP contests where they’ve been allowed to participate – including the swing states of Ohio (where he lost to Rick Santorum by 6 points among independents), New Hampshire, Nevada and Iowa.

This doesn’t compare well with the example of Obama, who tended to win the independent vote in his 2008 nomination battle with Hillary Clinton. For instance, when Obama lost Ohio to her, he still carried independents by 2 points, allowing his campaign to argue that he was better positioned to expand the party’s base in the fall.

But this year’s GOP process has forced Romney to live in fear of a party base that is wildly out of step with general election swing voters, and the effect could be showing. “He continues to lose among independent voters,” Axelrod said on Wednesday, “and that’s going to become increasingly so as he tacks further to the right.”

Why it may be overstated: In some states, like Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, Romney only lost the independent vote because an outsize chunk of it went to Ron Paul, something that probably spoke more to the large, loyal and unique following the libertarian congressman enjoys among non-Republican voters. And we don’t know how many “independents” in more recent contests are functional Democrats taking advantage of the lack of action on their side and trying to cause mischief in the GOP race. Plus, the ultimate, if unspoken, hope of any Republican nominee this year will be that the economy takes a turn for the worse before the election; if that happens, then swing voters, even if they are cool to him now, will be strongly inclined to give Romney a second look.

3. The youth vote

Why it’s a problem: Four years ago, Obama enjoyed a massive advantage – nearly 40 points – among voters between the ages of 18 and 29, a much wider gap than had been seen in the 2004 and 2000 elections. Plus, while young voters’ overall share of the ’08 electorate didn’t rise (because participation increased across the board), the turnout rate among them did tick up to 46 percent. On Wednesday’s call, Messina played up efforts by the Obama campaign to recapture this enthusiasm this year. Meanwhile, participation in the GOP primaries has skewed older, and there’s little evidence that the party and its candidates are resonating with young voters.

Why it may be overstated: It’s probably impossible for Obama to enjoy the same advantage he did four years ago, since he’ll be running this year on a record that has attracted mixed reviews even from many of his supporters. And in a recent piece for the New Republic, demographer Cheryl Russell argued that participation among 18-to-29-year-olds will drop this year because of the struggling economy, which has exacerbated un- and underemployment among young people and further delayed their embrace of marriage and home ownership — “adult commitments that give people a stake in society.”

4. Alienation of Latinos

Why it’s a problem: America’s fastest-growing minority group holds increasing sway in a number of swing states, particularly in the West – so much that Obama’s campaign sees an opportunity to make up for possible Rust Belt losses by rallying Latinos in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and maybe even Arizona.

This optimism stems from the GOP’s poisonous image among Hispanic voters. A Fox News Latino poll this week shows Obama leading Romney by 56 points, 70 to 14 percent, among Latinos, while an ABC News/Univision survey finds that a combined 72 percent of Latinos believe the GOP either doesn’t care about reaching out to them or is hostile to them. This, in turn, is probably the result of the GOP base’s anti-immigration absolutism, which has compelled the party’s leaders and presidential candidates — Romney, in particular – to take hard-line positions. As Greg Sargent pointed out Wednesday, though, the new ABC/Univision survey also provides evidence that Latinos tend to agree with Democrats’ broader economic message.

Why it may be overstated: Obama’s advantage over Romney in the Fox News Latino survey is massive, but he also took 67 percent of the Latino vote in 2008. Republicans would ideally like to chip away at this (George W. Bush held John Kerry to just 53 percent in 2004), but it’s long been assumed that Obama would enjoy a significant advantage here in ’12. At the same time, Obama’s record as president and his immigration policies have taken their toll on his image with Latinos; 53 percent of them say they are less enthusiastic about him now than when he took office, and a combined 46 percent say Democrats either don’t care about reaching out to them or are hostile to them.

5. Blue-collar resistance to Romney

Why it’s a problem: Obama didn’t win white working-class voters in ’08, but he did better among them than Kerry and Gore. But in 2010, they broke hard for the GOP, a major reason the midterm was so bloody for Democrats. Especially in light of their woes with Latino voters, it’s essential for Republicans to perform at or near that ’10 level with blue-collar whites if they’re going to unseat Obama this fall.

Against this backdrop, the demographic profile of Romney’s primary season army is startling. In state after state, there’s been a direct relationship between GOP voters’ income level and their enthusiasm for him. This was most dramatically illustrated on Tuesday night in Ohio, where Romney lost voters making between $50,000 and $100,000 by 11 points and those making between $30,000 and $50,000 by 6 – but made up for it with a blockbuster showing among those making between $100,000 and $200,000 (a 10-point win) and those making over $200,000 (a 29-point win). Because turnout among wealthy voters actually rose in Ohio from 2008, it could be argued that Romney’s 1-point statewide victory was keyed by the rich.

In 2008, Mike Huckabee famously said that Romney reminds blue-collar voters of “the guy who fired you.” If that image is at the core of his struggles with working- and middle-class Republican voters, it could easily spill over to working- and middle-class swing voters in the fall.

Why it may be overstated: The resistance of blue-collar Republican voters to Romney may be more ideological than we realize. That is, it may be that lower-income, less-educated GOP primary voters just tend to be more conservative and more religious, and that their objections to Romney stem more from his moderate image, and maybe even his Mormonism. If this is the case, than the effect may not extend as much to the general election audience.

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 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • 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>