Quin raises an interesting question about why voters seem to like a winner. I think many of us who write about politics for a living — or who comment frequently on political websites — fail to appreciate that many voters pay only casual attention to election campaigns. The media through which such voters do follow the campaign isn’t always sympathetic to conservative insurgent candidates. Finally, perception matters. There’s a strong case to be made against Mitt Romney’s electability but the perception is he’s the strongest general election candidate. Rick Santorum’s underfunded campaign and Newt Gingrich’s haphazard one have struggled to alter those perceptions.
There are two questions I’ve heard more than any other while covering the early phases of the 2012 campaign. Why does Iowa or New Hampshire get to pick my party’s nominee for me? And who cares about these little states? Wake me when a state with significant electorate votes casts its ballots. The answer to the first question is: Iowa and New Hampshire don’t have the power — or the delegates — to determine the nominee. It is just an observable fact how a candidate performs in those states has substantial impact on how they do going forward. That also answers the second question: by the time those big states vote, the primary campaign may be largely over.
In defense of the early states, however, I’d note that they are the very places that prize retail politics and afford the ability to run relatively low-budget campaigns. If we just immediately shifted to primary votes in huge, expensive media markets, the race would probably be even less competitive than it is now. Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina allow the other Republicans to compete with Romney on something approaching even terms.