This primary season has been a perfect Storm for Romney. There were countless things that had to go just right for Romney to win the nomination after Santorum’s early February surge. Romney won because he had incredibly good luck with delegate proportioning, primary (and caucus) timing, establishment support, and money, among other things.
Santorum, of course, rose from being the candidate that was ignored to being the recognized conservative challenger to Romney after a long line of conservative candidates surged and collapsed before primary season, including Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich (who would once again rise before his final collapse). He did this by winning the Iowa caucuses, which was totally unexpected just days before. Unfortunately, Romney was declared the winner by a measly eight votes and this dampened much of the momentum that Santorum could have had. It was revealed two weeks later when the final tallies came in that Santorum won by 37 votes, but his chance to capitalize on this was largely missed.
The most frustrating thing for Santorum must be the timing issue. On Feb. 7, Santorum scored a surprise triple victory. He won handily in Colorado and it was a blowout victory in Missouri and Minnesota; he won Minnesota by 18 points and Missouri by 30 points, getting a whopping 55 percent of the vote. This made Santorum the main conservative challenger to Romney. Santorum got a huge bump in the polls, both nationwide and in every state. Just three days after Santorum’s triple win, a poll put Santorum 15 points ahead of Romney, when, just one week before that, Romney was ahead of Santorum by about 20 points in the national polls. A Rasmussen poll put Santorum 12 points ahead of Romney exactly one week after the triple win. Unfortunately, Santorum would struggle to maintain this newfound momentum because there was a three week break in the primary process during which there was no time for Santorum to score some wins to maintain his momentum. That’s too bad. If Michigan and Arizona held their primaries one week after Santorum’s triple win, rather than three weeks, Santorum would likely be the front-runner, rather than a drop-out.
A poll released less than two weeks after his triple victory had Santorum just three points behind Romney in Arizona-a virtual tie. One month before Santorum’s triple win, Romney was 27 points ahead of Santorum in Arizona. Had the Arizona primary occurred one or two weeks after Santorum’s triple win, he probably would have pulled off an Iowa-style hairline victory against Romney in that winner-take-all state. Santorum had a way of outperforming polls; in a poll that came out just one day before the Colorado primary, Romney was beating Santorum by 10 points, but Santorum ended up edging out Romney by five points.
In Michigan, Romney was ahead by 15 points in the polls the week before the Feb. 7 primaries but, just a few days after Rick Santorum’s huge win, Santorum was leading the Michigan polls by 15 points. His double digit lead continued into the next week. Had Michigan held its primary on Feb. 14, Santorum would have undoubtedly won the state by a double digit margin. This would have been an epic blow to Romney’s campaign since it was previously unimaginable that he could lose Michigan, the state where his father was so popular.
Romney won Arizona and Michigan, giving him a huge boost that easily lasted into Super Tuesday, which happened the next week. Romney’s most important Super Tuesday win was Ohio, where he edged out Santorum by just one point. Ohio is another state that Santorum had double digit leads in just two weeks before Super Tuesday. Even by the time he blew his huge lead in Michigan (which was, of course, just in time for the Michigan primary) he was still leading the Ohio polls. This means that he would have won Ohio if it was on the same day as Michigan. If Ohio switched places with Michigan he would have won them both, because the Ohio victory would give him enough momentum to reclaim his lead in Michigan. But, as it happened, Santorum just helplessly watched as his double digit leads evaporated, falling like dominoes. Michigan and Ohio fell to Romney like clockwork, when the time was just right. This must have been very frustrating for Santorum.
It wasn’t just Michigan that Santorum lost due to bad timing; he also underperformed on Super Tuesday. Had Michigan and Arizona happened a week or two earlier, this would have allowed Santorum to renew and even increase his momentum for Super Tuesday, when he would have almost surely won Alaska and Ohio in addition to the three states that he did win. He wasn’t allowed on the ballot in Virginia (another stroke of bad luck) or else that would have come into play. He may have also edged out Gingrich in Georgia, forever sidelining the conservative vote-splitter who hated Romney so much that he didn’t see that getting out of the race was the worst thing he could do to Romney. Gingrich’s existence was part of this perfect storm for Romney.
But the dominoes didn’t stop there. Wisconsin was another state that Santorum maintained a large lead in right up until the time the state actually voted. Just one week before he lost Ohio by one point, the polls showed him 16 points ahead of Romney in Wisconsin but, when the time came, Romney beat Santorum by seven points. This is much in the same way that Santorum was still up by double digits in Ohio just two days before Michigan. It’s so clear that the order of these states was just absolutely perfect for Romney.
To see how the delegate allocation favored Romney, consider the following. After the first eight primaries and caucuses, Santorum had won four of them-more than any other candidate. Romney only won three. Yet, here was the delegate count at that time: Santorum-50 and Romney-112. That’s right, despite winning more states than Romney
, Santorum had less than half of the delegates.
Maybe Santorum will have better luck with his next shot at the Republican nomination. He has a lot of potential and I would like to see him run again.
Bill Hanrahan is a fourth-year student majoring in political science and philosophy. He can be reached at WH750431@wcupa.edu.