To hear the mainstream media and others tell it, former Gov. Mitt Romney is the only candidate among the four remaining in the Republican “circular firing squad” primary that is even remotely electable.
Meanwhile, many on the left have begun to quietly cheer on former Sen. Rick Santorum in the Republican primary because they don’t think he would have a much better chance in November than did George Wallace in 1968.
At this juncture, both arguments severely miss the mark.
For now, it appears Romney would fare slightly better than Santorum in a general election match-up with President Obama. But as political prognosticator Nate Silver of The New York Times says , Romney’s current electability edge over Santorum “is not all that great.”
In fact, the Rasmussen daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Presidents’ Day had Santorum slightly ahead of Romney in a head-to-head matchup with Obama.
The true answer of which candidate is more electable hinges on two items. How does each candidate go about winning the GOP nomination–if, in fact, one of them does win it? And where does the economy stand on Election Day?
If Mitt Romney achieves the GOP nomination by continuing to run solely on his biography and carpet-bombing his opponents with negative ads, he will not have provided the base with sufficient reason to support him. Conservatives won’t show up at the polls or, more importantly, work for him beforehand, and independents will flee to Obama after having been turned off thoroughly by Romney’s negative rhetoric. If Romney wants to win, he must develop a compelling campaign narrative.
Meanwhile, Santorum has become the anti-Romney candidate du jour by differentiating himself on social issues. If Santorum continues to focus on social issues, without offering solutions for the economy, he risks alienating independents and women. If this occurs, President Obama would win in a landslide, and Republicans will be left to wish they had picked Romney.
If both candidates clean up their acts, the unemployment rate remains at 8 percent or above, and the price of gas continues to climb, the electability problem would shift from the Republican candidate to the president–and the election likely would come down to a handful of states .
But they must clean up their acts. If not–if this current race to the bottom continues–neither candidate will be able to defeat President Obama, and the electability difference between the two will not matter, unless of course you are a candidate running down-ticket.