Lost amid the post–Super Tuesday analysis is the fact that Barack Obama actually got more votes than Mitt Romney in the crucial battleground state of Ohio last night, 547,588 to 456,205, according to the Ohio secretary of state.
That statistic is largely symbolic, but it is indicative of Romney’s weaknesses as a candidate (and Obama’s rebounding strength), which has become magnified as the GOP primary goes on. Self-identified Republicans made up 69 percent of GOP primary voters in Ohio, but only 65 percent of GOP primary voters said they would “definitely” vote for the GOP nominee in November.
The real story of the GOP primary—and Super Tuesday—is not that Romney won't be the GOP nominee (he will be, eventually), but how bruised he will be entering the general election. The polling on Romney over the past week has been dreadful for the Republican frontrunner.
In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Obama leads Romney by six points (50-44) among all voters, seven points among independents (46-39) and eighteen points among women (55-37). Last year Romney led Obama among working-class white voters by 14 points (52-38); now that lead is down to five. Notes Ron Brownstein: “By comparison, in 2008 non-college white voters backed John McCain over Obama by a resounding 58 percent to 40 percent; Republicans won even more of them (63 percent) in the 2010 Congressional election…. No Democratic presidential nominee since 1988 has carried more than 44 percent of non-college white voters.” Romney’s blue-collar problem is one of many he’ll face entering a general election.
According to Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, Obama leads Romney by twenty-five points (65-30) among unmarried women—a crucial segment of the Democratic base that dropped off in 2010. And he leads Romney by a staggering fifty-six points among Latino voters (70-14), a twenty-point improvement for Obama over John McCain in 2008. If these numbers hold, Obama will defeat Romney in every Western swing state and almost certainly win re-election.
Indeed, Romney is looking less like Ronald Reagan and more like Bob Dole as the race intensifies. Writes Neil King of the Wall Street Journal:
Not since the 1996 presidential candidacy of Republican Bob Dole has a party's likely nominee been viewed negatively by a plurality of Americans at this point in an election. Yet Mr. Romney's challenge in building a favorable image is steeper than Mr. Dole's was then.
The poll found that nearly 40 percent of Americans view Mr. Romney negatively, compared with 28 percent who view him positively, a gap of close to 12 percentage points.
Pundits have often compared the 2012 GOP presidential primary to the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. But they couldn’t be more different. The Obama/Clinton contest energized Democrats in 2008, while the GOP primary has seemingly depressed Republicans this year. Writes NBC political analyst Mark Murray: “Four in 10 of all adults say the GOP nominating process has given them a less favorable impression of the Republican Party, versus just slightly more than one in 10 with a more favorable opinion.” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina noted on a call today that GOP turnout fell in six Super Tuesday states compared to the GOP primary in 2008, continuing an overall trend in the GOP primary so far.
All the while, the Obama campaign is quietly building a strong organizational foundation in the battleground states, while Romney and his Super PAC are spending money at a furious pace on a primary contest that shows no sign of ending anytime soon. “The longer the GOP primary goes, the more we continue to build,” said Messina. For example, Messina said the Obama campaign registered 3,000 voters in North Carolina over the weekend and a “couple of thousand” in Virginia.
That’s not to say that Obama’s election is guaranteed or he will have an easy path to victory. The economy, whose improvement sparked Obama’s comeback, could doom his re-election if the job numbers backslide. A global crisis, such as an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facility, could throw the race for a serious curve. The coming onslaught of GOP Super PAC money—which Messina estimates could total $500 million—will surely increase Obama’s negative ratings. And Romney, despite his rising vulnerability, has retained an aura of competence on the economy, Greg Sargent notes.
Still, given everything the president has been through over the past three years, Team Obama has to like their chances at this stage of the game. “We are encouraged by what we see,” Obama strategist David Axelrod said today. “We’re fortified for a tough race.”
Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, out now in paperback.