Winning only in smaller, safe Republican states won’t cut it this year.
Rick Santorum’s supporters are probably dismayed, and understandably so, at the repetition of a particular pattern: When Mitt Romney wins a race during this Republican presidential primary season, even if narrowly, it is reported as a big deal, a significant achievement. When Rick Santorum wins, even if by a wide margin, as this past Saturday, it is barely discussed, not taken very seriously by the media or by most pundits as a measure of the man’s electability or importance.
But there’s the problem with that superficial view.
Of Santorum’s 11 wins so far, only five have been in binding primary elections. His other victories have all been in caucuses and Missouri’s strange non-binding primary.
Like it or not, caucuses are viewed as less representative of how voters actually feel, and how a general election will play out. Five of Santorum’s wins are considered important from that standpoint, despite a valid argument being available to suggest that caucus wins suggest stronger intensity for a candidate.
Of Romney’s 16 victories, nine have been in primaries (though that includes Virginia, in which only he and Ron Paul were on the ballot). He’s also taken four U.S. Territory contests, of which one (Puerto Rico) was a primary.
But it’s not just the eight (excluding Virginia) to five (excluding Missouri) lead in binding primaries, nor even the 20 to 11 lead in total contests that explains why Romney is given more credit by the media and by most political analysts for his victories than Santorum receives for his.
It’s the geography and the numbers.
Santorum’s primary wins are Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Three in the deep south, one nearly in the deep south, and one which is among the “reddest” states in America.
For perspective, here are the last times these states went for a Democrat in a presidential election:
Alabama – 1976, Louisiana – 1996, Mississippi – 1976, Oklahoma – 1964, and Tennessee – 1996.
Here are the numbers of times these states have voted for Democrats in the 15 presidential elections since 1952:
Alabama – 4, Louisiana – 5, Mississippi – 3, Oklahoma – 1, and Tennessee – 4.
In the states in which Rick Santorum has won a victory in a binding primary, the average number of times the Democrats have won the state in the last 15 presidential elections is 3.4, and the average number of presidential elections since the last Democrat victory is 7.6.
Now let’s examine the same statistics for the eight states (again excluding Virginia) in which Romney has won a primary, with the most recent year that those states have gone for the Democrat and the number of times it has done so since 1952:
Arizona: 1996 and 1, Florida: 2008 and 4, Illinois: 2008 and 7, Massachusetts: 2008 and 11, Michigan: 2008 and 8, New Hampshire: 2008 and 5, Ohio: 2008 and 5, Vermont: 2008 and 6.
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