When Rick Santorum dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination, it removed the last real obstacle standing between Mitt Romney and the nomination. The race has really been over for a while. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul remain in the race, but Romney has more than three times more delegates than the two of them combined. With his major competitor out of the race, Romney is almost certain to win a majority of delegates before the Republican convention in August.
Now the question is can Romney beat Obama? Right now Romney’s net favorable rating is historically low—it's 30 points lower than Obama’s—for a presidential candidate at this stage in the election. Not surprisingly, Obama leads Romney by 5 points in head-to-head polls. Head-to-head polls may not be that meaningful this far away from the election, but the polls do suggest that Romney may be in trouble with a number of key constituencies. The latest Washington Post/ABC poll found that Romney trails Obama by 19 points among women. And a recent Latino Decisions poll found Romney is actually 42 points behind in the crucial Latino vote.
The problem is that Romney’s attempts to prove to primary voters that he is “severely conservative” have tied him to positions on issues like reproductive health and immigration that alienate women and Latinos. Now Romney needs to convince them that he wasn’t really serious. His best hope is probably to try—as one of his advisers put it—to erase his the memory of the positions he took in the primary “like an Etch a Sketch.”
Romney may to some extent be able to reframe himself as a moderate in the general election. His attempts to affiliate himself with the conservative wing of his party were generally met with skepticism anyway. Many still remember him as the pro-choice governor of Massachusetts. But Romney may nevertheless find it difficult to pivot to the center. The Obama campaign has already released an ad to remind voters of some of the things Romney said during his primary campaign. And Romney remains beholden to conservative voters who want to hold him to his primary promises, which should give independent voters reason to doubt that he would really govern as a moderate.
Political Futures Markets
Chance President Obama will win reelection: 60.3% (Intrade)
Chance Mitt Romney will win the Republican nomination: 97.7% (Intrade)
Chance that Republicans will win control of the Senate: 66.0% (Intrade)
Chance that Republicans will maintain control of the House: 66.3% (Intrade)
President Obama’s approval rating: 47.3% (Pollster)
Mitt Romney’s favorable rating: 37.6% (Pollster)
Obama advantage over Romney in head-to-head polls: 5.3 points (Real Clear Politics)
Republican advantage on a generic congressional ballot: 1.2 points (Real Clear Politics)
“Romney has shown an unusual ability to slide seamlessly from one position to the opposite. And even in the primaries, when he saw a political advantage moving to the left—as he did with Rick Perry and Social Security—he did. With Santorum out of the way, the calculus will change sharply and Romney will have a lot more to gain from being a ‘moderate’ than he did a month ago. We’ll see how much he changes as the weather warms.”—Josh Barro
Please follow me on Twitter: @rdeneufville
Mitt Romney image from Gage Skidmore