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Today's primaries: Would a Romney sweep soften up Santorum?

April 03, 2012|By Mark Z. Barabak
  • Sample ballots from digital voting machines are taped to a window in Potomac, Md.
Sample ballots from digital voting machines are taped to a window in Potomac,… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

It’s election day and that feeling in the air is springtime, not anything approaching the excitement and anticipation that marked earlier days in the primary season. (At least among political junkies and those who get paid to care about such things.)

The outcome in Tuesday’s primaries in Maryland and the District of Columbia seems preordained, with Mitt Romney certain to win both. Rick Santorum, his chief rival, didn’t even make the ballot in Washington, D.C., and virtually ignored its next-door neighbor. In effect, he ceded the front-running Romney 56 delegates — adding to the 572 he already has – before the polls opened.

The result in Wisconsin, the day’s biggest prize, also seems pretty much set, with Romney expected to carry the Badger State and make it a three-for-three Tuesday, claiming most of the state’s 42 delegates and pushing Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, even further to the campaign margins.

As Michael A. Memoli noted in an earlier post, while there are still 19 states left to vote after Tuesday —including mega-states Texas and California — the focus of the presidential contest has increasingly shifted to the general election fight between former Massachusetts Gov. Romney and President Obama.

Still, there are a few things to watch as the returns come in. The polls close in Washington, D.C., and Maryland at 8 p.m. EST (5 p.m. PST) and in Wisconsin at 8 p.m. CST (6 p.m. PST).

There is, of course, the possibility — however slight – of a Santorum upset. And while it wouldn’t rank up there with Truman beating Dewey, it would be a shock nonetheless, once more setting the teeth of the Republican Party establishment to gnashing and its collective hands to wringing. A Wisconsin victory would give Santorum an enormous boost heading into the next contest —a must-win showdown in Pennsylvania on April 24 — and set off another flight of what’s-wrong-with-Romney speculation that would only deepen his difficulties against Obama in the fall.

But the chances of that happening are only slightly better than Obama showing up for work Wednesday wearing a Cheesehead and doing a touchdown dance on the carpet of the Oval Office.

So failing that, here are some other things to look for:

1. Does Romney win Wisconsin by a lot or a little? On several occasions, Romney had the chance to put the race away. He repeatedly fell short in the South, and his close wins in Michigan and Ohio were far from a knockout punch. Romney finally showed some winning mojo two weeks ago in Illinois, which, looking back, may prove the turning point in the acrimonious Republican fight. Another big win in Wisconsin would mean the Republican nomination is signed, sealed and virtually delivered to Romney.

2. Does the former governor make any inroads among the voter groups most resistant to his candidacy? In state after state, Romney has run weakest among evangelicals (many of whom are dubious of his Mormon faith); among voters who says it is important to nominate a true conservative (many of whom question the core of Romney’s convictions); and among less-well-to-do voters (who heard him say he has friends who own NASCAR teams, he owns two Cadillacs, “I like being able to fire people,” etc., etc.) Republicans will most assuredly come around to Romney once he’s the nominee; anybody-but-Obama is their mantra. But to compete in the industrial states of the Midwest and Northeast come November, Romney is going to have to improve his standing with blue-collar independents and other less-affluent voters.

3. How’s turnout? Republicans have stayed away from the polls in droves this election season. In Maryland, officials suggested that turnout on Tuesday could fall to near-record lows. After the 2010 GOP landslide, there was much talk of an enthusiasm gap, the notion being that dispirited Democrats would stay home while Republicans sprinted – not even taking the time to walk – to their nearest polling place, so desperate would they be to rid the country of President Obama. Republicans still loathe the incumbent. But they’re not especially thrilled with any of the potential GOP replacements, repeated surveys have found. Turnout in the primaries doesn’t necessary correlate to turnout in the general election. But there is a reason why Democrats feel good about the get-out-the-vote operations they have been quietly building across the country while Republicans fret about their late start.

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