GWEN IFILL: Next, to campaign politics.
The two leading contenders for the Republican nomination spent the day campaigning in Colorado, where voters caucus tomorrow. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who came in a distant second in Saturday’s Nevada caucus voting, turned his attention to the man who came in first, Mitt Romney.
NEWT GINGRICH (R): And I think the number-one difference between me and the other candidates in this race is the scale of change.
Gov. Romney doesn’t represent profound change. He doesn’t represent — if you look at what he did in Massachusetts, he basically accommodated liberal Democrats. And if you look at Romneycare and compare it to Obamacare, if you look at who he appointed as judges, they were people who made liberal Democrats happy. And it’s not — he’s not a bad person, per se. But he’s also not a person who goes in there with force and will and fundamentally changes things.
GWEN IFILL: But Romney all but ignored Gingrich, deciding instead to focus almost entirely on the man he ultimately wants to unseat.
MITT ROMNEY (R): President Obama three years ago was on “The Today Show,” and he said if he couldn’t turn the economy around in three years, he’ be looking at a one-term proposition.
We’re here to collect.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MITT ROMNEY: All right. And, by the way, he was on “The Today Show” again this morning, and — on the anniversary of that statement. And he said he deserves a second term.
MITT ROMNEY: No, Mr. President, you do not deserve a second term.
I’m afraid, based upon the president’s own standard, he has failed. He doesn’t deserve a second term.
GWEN IFILL: And now to some analysis from Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at USA Today, and Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report and Roll Call newspaper.
Stu, let’s go back to Betty Ann’s piece, because it was kind of interesting that today, not on the stump, but online, Mitt Romney started a petition, talking about how President Obama was forcing a secular vision on America. And we have heard Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum talking about the president’s war on religion.
What is at stake?
STUART ROTHENBERG, Editor and Publisher, The Rothenberg Political Report: Well, of course, there’s a segment of the Republican Party that really cares about cultural issues.
It’s funny. After the last couple of elections, I have read somewhere from — mostly from Democrats — that cultural issues don’t matter anymore, social issues, and it’s all about jobs and the economy and the new economy.
But there is a deep cultural division in this country, with most traditionalists with the Republicans and most liberals or progressives with Democrats. And so when you get an issue injected into a campaign like this, that is so controversial, I think it’s bound to create reverberations, where the politicians start to speak out.
GWEN IFILL: A classic wedge issue.
STUART ROTHENBERG: It is.
GWEN IFILL: Susan, does this mean that the Catholic vote votes in a monolith way on this kind of issue? Is this a critical voting bloc?
SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: Well, it is a critical voting bloc. It’s not monolith by any means.
But it’s been an important voting bloc for President Obama. He made a big effort to go after Catholic voters in 2008. He won 54 percent of them, turning around a deficit that Senator Kerry had suffered four years earlier.
And we find Catholic voters — about 20 percent of the U.S. electorate is Catholic. And in some swing states, they make up as many — much as the third of the electorate in places like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and New Mexico.
One other thing to know about the Catholic vote is that a lot of Latinos are Catholic. And we know Latinos are going to be a crucial voting group this time. And they tend to be — many Latinos tend to be conservative socially.
So, it seems to me that President Obama has kind of opened a fight on this that may not — may create some problems for him down the road.
STUART ROTHENBERG: I think this is exactly right.
Look, we have had — battle lines on abortion have been drawn for a long time. And we know there are pro-choice Catholics, there are pro-life Catholics. They’re not going to change their views. They’re going to vote the parties the way they have.
But there are enough casual voters, independent voters who are Catholic, swing voters in key states that they could determine who wins some of the key states that Susan has identified here.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about casual voters or the not-so-casual voters. And we saw in Nevada the other night turnout wasn’t what was expected, what was predicted. Does that mean the enthusiasm gap has gone away?
SUSAN PAGE: Well, I think it raises some questions.
Down — also, turnout in Florida, a week earlier, it was down from 2008. I think this does raise questions about how enthusiastic Republican voters really are about this field. We know they’re enthusiastic about defeating Barack Obama. Are they enthusiastic about electing Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich? I think this raises some questions.
GWEN IFILL: And how much of this, Stu, is about the process of a caucus? We are going to see a couple more of those coming up. Is it about the way caucuses are conducted? People are less likely to show up?
STUART ROTHENBERG: I don’t know about that. I’m not sure it’s that.
But I think there is some question about how revved up Republicans are. You would think that they should turn out to these events if they felt strongly about these candidates. And the fact that they aren’t showing up in huge numbers — predictions were that turnout would be bigger. Well, it wasn’t. You have to wonder why.
GWEN IFILL: I read that all four of the remaining candidates are going to be in four different states tomorrow night, which means — which is the next round of voting, a lot of beauty contests, no delegates awarded.
Are what we — is what we’re seeing tomorrow in Missouri, Colorado, Minnesota, is it a pit stop on the way to Super Tuesday?
SUSAN PAGE: Well, it’s not one of those big, big election nights, I don’t think. But it is important.
For one thing, Mitt Romney, as you pointed out in the piece, wants us to think he already has the nomination. Right? He’s focusing his fire on Barack Obama. If he doesn’t win all three of these, or at least two of them, doesn’t that raise some questions about that, about whether he’s really on his way?
We know Rick Santorum is hoping to win in Missouri’s nonbinding beauty contest primary that they have tomorrow night, and that Minnesota seems quite competitive. We know Minnesota is a place with a lot of Tea Party voters, as Michele Bachmann taught us.
GWEN IFILL: And how about Newt Gingrich? He has been saying that he has a strategy which takes him through the South and to Texas, and there is a survival path there.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Right. His strategy goes to . . .
GWEN IFILL: You crunch numbers.
STUART ROTHENBERG: His strategy goes to Texas and April 3.
And there are a number of Southern primaries coming up throughout March. I think the key may well be Tennessee. I hate to pick one state already. But on Super Tuesday, you know, Massachusetts is there. You have to figure that Mitt Romney will do well. Georgia is there. You have to figure Newt Gingrich. Ohio is going to be a key state.
But as the former speaker says, the South is the key. Tennessee is a Southern state, but it’s really a very mixed state. The eastern part of Tennessee is mountain, mountain Republican, more traditional moderate Republicans, Howard Baker, Sen. Corker, Lamar Alexander. You go west in Tennessee. You go to a more southern part of the state.
GWEN IFILL: Doesn’t Rick Santorum have a chance to break out in a place like that?
STUART ROTHENBERG: I think Rick Santorum is looking at a number of places to break out.
Mitt Romney wants to create momentum, the inevitability. I think Rick Santorum in all these states wants — he wants to become the alternative.
GWEN IFILL: What do you think about Newt Gingrich’s path?
SUSAN PAGE: I think hinging your hopes on Tennessee on Super Tuesday sounds a little frail to me. I mean, he’s got to wait so long before he wins again.
He won in South Carolina. That gave him a lot of momentum. He’s going to wait until March 6 to win again? And then he’s going to win in Tennessee, not in Ohio, which is a mega-state, a much more important state when you get to the general election.
So, you know, you don’t want to count Newt Gingrich out. He’s come back twice when we wouldn’t — we didn’t expect it. But this would be historic. We wouldn’t have seen before a case when somebody would come back from the deficit he is at now and get the nomination.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Can I respond to the shot she just took at me here?
GWEN IFILL: I didn’t hear a shot.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Just quickly, quickly, Susan, my point is that Newt Gingrich is talking about a Southern strategy. He’s not going to win Virginia because he’s not on the ballot. If he can’t win Tennessee, that means he wins only Georgia. I think we will discount that, as his home state.
GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s not — I saw Ron Paul being interviewed earlier today on CNN. And he was asked, what is the one state you can win? And he said, oh, I don’t worry about that stuff. That’s somebody else’s job.
Do you see a state that he is positioned to win?
SUSAN PAGE: I think he might win Maine. They report out on Saturday. He’s gotten big crowds in Maine.
It’s the kind of slightly quirky state, a caucus state, where a small band of really devoted followers perhaps can make a difference. But, of course, I don’t think Ron Paul is really running for the nomination. He’s running to affect the course of American history, to affect the platform, to make a statement.
So, for him, it seems to me it’s easier to see a path for him to stay in this all the way to Tampa than it is for the other two challengers.
GWEN IFILL: You want to take . . .
STUART ROTHENBERG: No, no. I agree entirely.
But if we’re looking for a quirky state that Ron Paul could win, I think it says something about his overall prospects.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. As you’ve said . . .
GWEN IFILL: . . . every week sitting in these chairs.
Stu Rothenberg, Susan Page, thank you both very much.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Thanks.
SUSAN PAGE: Thank you, Gwen.