Something has been really weird about this GOP primary season. It’s easy to understand why the Republican Establishment has supported Mitt Romney from the start based upon their support of previous moderates like John McCain and Bob Dole. What hasn’t been as clear is why the Obama campaign team has been working on helping Romney get the nomination through their actions (or lack of actions in many cases).
Conventional wisdom would say that it would serve the Obama campaign to prolong the GOP primary season for as long as possible, allowing the candidates to soften up each other through attacks and drain the money that will eventually be pointed at Obama. The fact that they have not started to attack frontrunner Romney in full force in hopes of casting doubts on his abilities and extending the race has been viewed as a mistake by many analysts.
It has not been a mistake. They simply noticed something that the Republican Establishment, mainstream media, and GOP voters hadn’t: Rick Santorum is more popular than Romney in swing states.
Despite public perception, the winner of the presidential election is determined by a relatively-small number of states. Fourteen states are solidly Democrat and have voted such in nearly every election since 1988. Nineteen states are solidly Republican, with Indiana being the only one that Obama was able to pull in 2008. The other 17 states are up for grabs.
Among those are Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, and Minnesota. Assuming that Santorum wins Ohio and Pennsylvania, these are states that Obama won in 2008 that would more likely swing to Santorum (Pennsylvania is guaranteed) than they would to Romney. Romney brings New Mexico, Nevada, and Michigan.
Romney’s victory in Florida is the toss up, but Marco Rubio as the Vice President for either candidate will help win that state regardless of whether it’s Romney or Santorum. If anything, Romney might make the mistake of bringing on a more conservative VP, giving Florida to the Democrats again.
If Santorum wins the Republican states and pulls the five above plus Florida, he would only need to win the right-leaning Indiana (which Obama won in 2008) OR one of the three other swing states that George W. Bush won in 2004 (Virginia, North Carolina, or Nevada) to defeat Obama in November. Romney’s road to the White House would require more unlikely victories to become a reality.
In that scenario for Santorum, it would very likely be another case as with George W. Bush where he would receive fewer votes overall but would win the right states to take the presidency.
Mathematically speaking, Santorum is the tougher candidate against Obama. The Republican Establishment has failed once again at basic math.