Mitt Romney’s presidential bid enters a real make or break phase this week ahead of the Michigan primary. The GOP campaign has had no less than seven frontrunners in this campaign, and the worrying aspect for the largely organised and heavily financed Romney campaign is his struggle to break through the field.
Rick Santorum’s surge is consistent Texas Governor Rick Perry’s at his peak. A little higher than Herman Cain’s surge and slightly than Newt Gingrich’s lofty pre-Christmas heights, and nobody can rule out another Gingrich surge either.
The current debate involving the Catholic Church and Obama Administration has in no doubt aided the Santorum surge, with his values based appeal to the conservative support base. One has to wonder whether the much publicised spat was a strategically placed controversy by the Obama Administration to kill off Romney’s bid, or a calculated risk on their part however; Santorum’s rise is potentially the most serious yet. The previous negative advertising used by the Romney campaign against in particular, Gingrich may not be as effective in this instance. I asked the question some weeks ago, what does Romney stand for?
Herein, lays Romney’s biggest flaw in his campaign to date. He has been effective in ripping apart previous challenger’s surges without people asking what does Mitt Romney stand for? In this instance Santorum, unlike previous challengers has demonstrated an ability to learn, identify himself clearly and definitively as the social values candidate, while at the same time, slowly but steadily attacking Romney on his record in public office. Santorum is oozing confidence at present and appears sincere, natural and passionate on whatever issue he is speaking about.
Santorum combines a deeply held social conservatism with a genuine blue-collar appeal. Romney has appeared out of sorts at CPAC constantly using the phrase “Conservative values” and at one point referring to himself as “Severely Conservative”, he has also seemed uneasy and unnatural when trying to appear passionate on describing his love for his native birth state Michigan, appearing almost desperate, when citing his love of the trees and lakes in one speech, ouch! Romney has also found it troublesome to shake the label of being out of touch and being a member of social elite attributed to him by the Obama team.
The Romney campaign has already made large ad purchases, which are not likely to feature positive Romney bio slots. The problem the Romney Campaign has is their inability to frame a negative attack label on Santorum to date. Turning negative has contributed to the surge in unfavourable feelings voters have about Romney, and independents like other voters favour a politician who plays dirty. This presents the risky proposition that any such negative attack ads may not work and actually be used against Romney himself. Romney has been unable to manipulate Santorum’s electoral weakness on cultural issues, as Santorum has gone to great lengths and efforts to question the role of women in the workplace and in the military, and emphasise his opposition to contraception.
Santorum on the other hand has a strong record on supporting global health programs and earned a reputation for being a champion of faith-based anti-poverty efforts. Santorum also appears to be a more acceptable candidate to the GOP establishment who raced to attack former speaker Gingrich when he assumed the front runner status, the language and commentary used in their description of Santorum is subtlety complimentary, yet composed.
Another major factor working against Romney in Michigan is his well-publicised opposition to the federal bailout of General Motors who only last week announced its largest ever profits in history, which undermines Romney’s argument that bankruptcy would have been a better way to go for the auto companies. This makes Santorum’s appeal to ordinary blue collar worker all the more prominent in the state’s primary battle.
Romney has failed to win over supporters and the conservative base despite six years of campaigning largely due to a fundamental lack of enthusiasm. He has to win Michigan it is as simple as that, it is a battleground state in the general election and a failure to a secure victory here, will raise new doubts ahead of the critical Super Tuesday contest and Romney’s fragile front-runner status once and for all.
Romney’s best chance of victory is message, he needs to give voters and supporters a clear vision on where he will take the country and present a break-out policy initiative to seize the upper hand. He can no longer depend on his tried and tired tactics of highlighting his business credentials, attacking President Obama’s record and tearing down fellow GOP rivals.
Romney needs to inspire American’s and give them a reason to vote for him. One good policy initiative, which he can take to the country, may enable him to display a dynamism, passion and level of enthusiasm that will make him the all-appealing stand-out candidate. Failure to change step and stick with the old tried and tested tactics will only lead to his challenge for the highest office in the land falling apart slowly but surely.