Really? I mean, really, Ross? You call this an argument for Mitt Romney's electability?
Several things are missing from your argument, but let's focus one just one: Money.
During the month of January, Romney's campaign spent $18.8 million, compared to $5.9 million for Newt Gingrich and $3.3 million for Rick Santorum. Thus, Romney outspent Gingrich by a factor of roughly 3.2-to-1 and Romney outspent Santorum by a factor of roughly 5.7-to-1.
During the month of February, Romney's campaign spent $12.4 million, compared to $7.8 million for Santorum and $2.9 million for Gingrich. This gave Mitt a 1.6-to-1 spending advantage over Santorum for the month, and a 4.3-to-1 advantage over Gingrich.
For the first two months of 2012, therefore, Romney spent $31.2 million to Santorum's $11.1 million and Gingrich's $8.8 million. Omitting entirely the money spent during 2011, Romney has spent 61 percent of the campaign cash expended by the three top Republican contenders for the first two months of the year, yet has about 40 percent of GOP primary and caucus votes, while Santorum has spent 22 percent of the money and gotten 28 percent of the vote, and Gingrich spent 17 percent of the money and got 21 percent of the vote.
We cannot forget, of course, the 2012 is the year of the "super PACs." and the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, has been the principle vehicle used to unleash attack ads against his Republican rivals. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Restore Our Future has spent at least $32.7 million so far during the 2012 campaign cycle (full FEC reports are not yet available). The pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, has spent at least $16.6 million so far, and the pro-Santorum super PAC, Red White and Blue, has spent at least $5.4 million so far.
Combining these admittedly rough and incomplete metrics, then, we get the following picture:
- Romney $63.9 million, 4.1 million votes, $15.59 per vote.
- Gingrich $25.4 million, 2.2 million votes, $11.55 per vote.
- Santorum $16.5 million, 2.9 million votes, $5.69 per vote.
These ratios are quite significant when you consider that the biggest states in Romney's win column -- Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois -- were all states in which his campaign and super PAC vastly outspent Romney's rivals in advertising, Romney's 7-to-1 ad ratio against Santorum in Illinois being the most recent example.
Romney is winning primaries with lopsided money advantages he won't have in the general election and, as Gingrich noted during his speech Thursday in Baton Rouge, the negativity of Romney's primary campaign has driven down turnout and dampened conservative enthusiasm. If Mitt is indeed "inevitable" as the nominee -- and see my column today for a solid pushback against that spin -- then the omens for November are not encouraging.
I remain convinced that a sort of hocus-pocus of political prestidigitation has been performed so far in the 2012 campaign, and the Republican electorate is beginning to see through the illusion. This could be seen from the February fundraising reports, showing that Santorum ($9 million for the month) made big strides toward closing the money gap with Romney ($12 million), while Gingrich's campaign stumbled toward bankruptcy, with Newt's February fundraising falling to $2.3 million, finishing the month with more debt than cash on hand.
The Gingrich campaign death-watch -- see today's New York Times article by Trip Gabriel as a sort of first draft of the obit -- is now underway. By delaying their dismal February financial report until the last minute (they blurted the ugly truth to Politico the day the FEC report was due), Gingrich's campaign was able to maintain a mirage of viability for nearly three weeks into March, but that's all over now.
The decisive shift of conservative support toward Santorum (as evidenced by his 3-to-1 margin over Gingrich in Louisiana) has given him renewed momentum. While the delegate math still favors Romney, there are still eight days before next week's primaries in Wisconsin and Maryland, and then Santorum gets a three-week breathing spell before the multi-state contests on April 24. While many conservative pundits have resigned themselves to Romney's inevitability, Republican primary voters may have different ideas.
No predictions about the final outcome, but here's one short-term prediction: Before this week is over, we'll get devastating news accounts about the financial plight of the Gingrich campaign. And once there's blood in the water, the sharks will come circling around Newt. Just imagine yourself as a vendor to the Gingrich campaign, waiting for an overdue payment, and then reading that New York Times story about Newt rolling across rural Louisiana, where "a 10-car motorcade conveys him like a head of state, three police cars with flashing lights leading a Secret Service detail and shiny S.U.V.'s for Mr. Gingrich and his staff." All this, to get 16 percent of the vote?
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