After Super Tuesday, all eyes are on Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, who hung on by his fingernails to eke out a victory in Ohio and win five other GOP primaries. But Rick Santorum’s performance last night is worth a careful look as well because the nomination is shaping up as a battle between social issues and fiscal policy.
Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, was handed two golden opportunities to topple his chief competitor in major industrial states, Ohio and Michigan. In both cases, Santorum blew substantial, double-digit leads in the polls heading into the final weekend of campaigning.
While Santorum shrewdly targeted Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado last month, sloppy campaign work and inadequate resources kept Santorum off the ballot in Virginia – where he might have won or done remarkably well, since Rep. Ron Paul of Texas ended up with 40 percent of that vote. Santorum also failed to qualify for 16 of the 66 delegates that were up for grabs in Ohio.
Moreover, Santorum lost to Romney in some factory towns, despite his blue-collar pedigree. And Santorum, a conservative Catholic who is outspoken about faith-based issues, lost Catholic voters by a wide margin in Ohio on Tuesday, potentially a key factor that allowed Mitt Romney to squeak out the narrowest of victories overall in the state. According to CNN’s exit polls, Romney took 43 percent of Ohio Catholics, compared to 31 percent for Santorum.
Romney’s focus on jobs and the economy once again trumped Santorum’s cultural warfare message and relentless hammering on Romney for his complicity in passing health care reform in Massachusetts with an individual mandate that became a model of sorts for the reviled Obama health care law. Romney, the former Bain Capital equity investment executive, argues that he is better equipped than his rivals or President Obama to manage the slowly recovering economy and bring down the deficit.
Exit polls yesterday confirmed that the economy is foremost in the minds of many voters. In Ohio, where unemployment is just below the national average and the auto industry is beginning to make a comeback, more than half of the Republican voters consider the economy the top issue, while a quarter of voters pointed to the budget deficit. Among voters in Georgia, where unemployment is 9.4 percent, six in ten said they were most concerned about the economy and jobs.