So Long, Santorum

exit santorum

Gettysburg, the site of the bloodiest battle of the American civil war, claimed yet another casualty on Tuesday in the shape of Rick Santorum’s campaign for the Republican nomination. It was here, in his home state, that he chose to announce his withdrawal from the race. While it is quite remarkable that a man with such extreme views has come so far, he was still the second-placed candidate, and most likely alternative to Mitt Romney, should the frontrunner spectacularly implode. It seemed more likely that Newt Gingrich, who has been essentially out of the contest since February, would drop out first. But it was Santorum who terminated his campaign, citing his daughter’s illness as a reason.

While the health of his daughter surely will have contributed to his withdrawal, really Santorum’s decision to pull out of the race comes down to the consideration of three states: Pennsylvania, Iowa and Texas.

Pennsylvania holds its primary on April 24. It is rich in delegates, but more importantly it is Rick Santorum’s home state. Winning one’s home state is of vital importance in American politics – only three men have ever won the presidency without doing so – and even Newt Gingrich managed to turn home advantage into a victory in Georgia. However, Santorum’s lead in Pennsylvania has been dropping in recent weeks at an alarming rate, with the most recent polls putting him behind Romney 42-37, representing a swing of 23 points in the last month. This, coupled with the reported $2.9 million that Romney planned to pump into the Pennsylvania primary, will have been worrying enough to the Santorum campaign to get him to pull the plug, rather than risk a repeat of his loss in the 2006 Senate race in the state. His 700,000-vote deficit still represents the heaviest defeat for a sitting senator for a quarter of a century; his career would not be able to withstand another one.

Considering that humiliating loss in 2006, it is quite remarkable that Santorum got this far at all. Though, had things been slightly different in Iowa, it is not inconceivable to think he could have gone much further. Iowa, the first state to vote in the Republican primaries, first announced Mitt Romney the winner of its caucus by the slim margin of eight votes. However, after a recount, it was announced almost three weeks later that Santorum actually won by a margin of 34. Though Iowa’s proportional system means that the result made no difference in terms of delegates, had the result been called correctly from the start, there would have been a real psychological effect on the race. Romney’s New Hampshire victory would most likely have been less convincing, and Santorum may have managed to take Newt Gingrich’s South Carolina crown. Had this happened, with Santorum winning two of the first three states, it is likely that the right wing of the party actually have been able to unite behind an anti-Romney candidate, and a real two-horse race would have emerged. Considering how close a number of the contests have been so far, the whole trajectory of the contest could have been very different.

Even without Iowa being called correctly, and the hypothetical fallout following it, Santorum’s candidacy could have been saved had a couple of seemingly insignificant decisions made in Texas had gone his way. First it was decided to move Texas’ primary from the beginning of April to May 29, due to a redistricting dispute. It was then also decided that the state’s delegates would be allocated proportionally, rather than making it a winner-take-all contest. Had each of these decisions gone the other way, on April 3 Santorum could have been celebrating an injection of 155 delegates to his current tally. This would have kept him within touching distance of Mitt Romney and helped win over those Republicans who vote for Romney out of pragmatism, while preferring Santorum’s positions.

But this did not happen. Iowa mistakenly announced a Romney win, Texas will hold their proportional primary in May, and Rick Santorum has dropped out of the race. Santorum will feel that dropping out before Pennsylvania will allow him to take another shot at the presidency in 2016, but with a potential field of of Republican heavyweights to contend with, his chances seem slim. He will more likely find a home at Fox News.

As for the current race, any lingering doubts that Romney would gain the nomination have now been pretty much eradicated. Ron Paul is unelectable and Newt Gingrich’s campaign is in disarray; he was unable even to raise $500 to get on the ballot in Utah. Although Santorum was unable to unseat Romney, he may have done irreparable damage to his campaign in the long run. The Romney campaign has spent an estimated $93 million taking on Santorum (including Super PAC spending); money which now cannot be spent fighting Obama in November. Santorum has also attacked Romney repeatedly, even going so far as to say the United States might as well re-elect President Obama. Most importantly however, by attacking Romney’s moderation Santorum has pulled him greatly to the right; something that may gain the votes of his own party, but will ultimately lose those of the independents, women and Latinos that the GOP needs to attract.

With Santorum gone, the ‘Etch-a-Sketch‘ candidate finds himself having to reinvent himself again to take on Obama. The question is, is it too late?

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About ourfriendsinthewest

A British take on American politics.

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