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With Romney Leading and No End in Sight, GOP Campaigns Carry on

March 7, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Despite winning six states, Mitt Romney's Super Tuesday victories did little to winnow the GOP field. Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul picked up some delegates and continued campaigning ahead of more caucuses and primaries. Gwen Ifill, USA Today's Susan Page and the Pew Research Center's Andrew Kohut discuss the race.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Super Tuesday came and went, and the Republican presidential race carried on today, with no end in sight. Instead, most of the candidates returned to campaigning across the country.

In winning six states, Mitt Romney still failed to deliver a knockout blow last night. But, today, he insisted it will come.

MITT ROMNEY (R): I am prepared to fight all the way to become the nominee. And, you know, I was pleased with our success last night.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On CNBC, the Republican front-runner insisted he knows the path that will take him to victory.

MITT ROMNEY: We have got the time and the resources and a plan to get all the delegates. And we think that will get done before the convention.

But one thing I can tell you for sure is, there’s not going to be a brokered convention, where some new person comes in and becomes the nominee. It’s going to be one of the four people that are still running.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Romney’s biggest win Tuesday was his one-point squeaker in Ohio. He also scored victories in Massachusetts, where he was once governor, and in Vermont, Virginia, Idaho and Alaska.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum won three states, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota. And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s one claim was Georgia, the state he represented in Congress.


REP. RON PAUL, R-Texas: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Only Texas Congressman Ron Paul didn’t win a state.

Taking all of that into account, a Romney campaign memo today suggested the results make it increasingly difficult for any of the others to catch him. The Associated Press projected that Romney hauled in at least 216 delegates on Super Tuesday, giving him a total of 419. Santorum picked up 86 delegates, bring his total to 178. Gingrich added 74 delegates to put him at 107 overall. And Paul got at least 22 delegates under proportional representation systems. His total is now 47.

More than 1,100 delegates are needed to claim the nomination. But Romney’s lead in the count did little to dissuade his rivals.

Santorum campaigned this afternoon in Kansas, which holds its caucuses on Saturday.

RICK SANTORUM (R): We had a good night last night, but — but so did Gov. Romney. That’s why we have to start anew here. We have to do well here in Kansas. No, we have to win here in Kansas, and win big.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Leaders of a super PAC supporting Santorum, the Red, White and Blue Fund, called for Gingrich to quit the race, and give Santorum a clear shot at Romney.

But Gingrich made clear he has no intention of doing so, as he campaigned in Alabama, which has its primary next Tuesday.

NEWT GINGRICH (R): We are staying in this race because I believe that it’s going to be impossible for a moderate to win the general election.


NEWT GINGRICH: I believe — you know, we tried it in 1996, and it didn’t work. We tried it in 2008, and it didn’t work.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Republican field will also hunt for delegates in Mississippi and Hawaii next Tuesday and in Illinois and Louisiana later this month.

GWEN IFILL: For more on what we saw on Super Tuesday and the path for the Republican candidates, we turn to Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today, Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, and former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson. He’s now director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

GWEN IFILL: Susan, wasn’t last night supposed to clear everything up?


SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: Well, you know, I think it cleared — I think it did clear some things up.

I think it made it — it was evidence that Mitt Romney is likely to be the Republican nominee, but that it’s not done yet, that he’s going to have to fight on, that these other candidates are not going anywhere, and that we’re see this fight continue for a month or two months or three months.

GWEN IFILL: I want to walk you all through some of the things we saw last night and get your sense about it.

And I — one of the things, I wonder what we were seeing when we saw, in a state like Virginia, which we didn’t pay a lot of attention to, that Ron Paul, Andy, won 41 percent of the vote. Is that the anybody-but-Romney vote we’ve been watching all year long?

ANDREW KOHUT, Pew Research Center: He’s not Romney.

We were dealing with a very small number of people who turned out in Virginia, in relative terms. But the big thing there was that there’s — there’s a reluctance to accept Romney on very significant — among very significant segments of the Republican base.

GWEN IFILL: How did that play out across the board?

ANDREW KOHUT: Well, we saw are some very familiar patterns, Romney’s inability to get the backing of people who say they are very conservative.

He lost by 18 points in Oklahoma among those people, 20 points in Oklahoma, 21 points in Tennessee, the states that I looked at in some detail. We saw class mattering. Romney does really well among the people who earn $100,000 a year or more, really well among the college graduates.

But among the people with less education and less money, there’s not that much support. He was lucky in Ohio. He just lost by a little bit to the less affluent working-class voters, but in the South, in the Southern places, in Tennessee and Oklahoma, he lost by 20 points among — class is a factor and religion a factor.


Susan, I want to talk about the South in particular, because, in not winning Tennessee last night, he missed his chance to make a stake there. Is there a problem in the South for Mitt Romney?

SUSAN PAGE: Yes, I think clearly so.

And it’s particularly a problem because the South is the Republicans’ regional base. That’s really where Republicans have their stronghold. And, as Andy says, with the voters who tend to predominate in the South, including Christian evangelicals, strong supporters of the Tea Party movement, he continues to get only a fraction of those voters, about a third of those voters in many of these states.

That was a problem for him last night. It will be a bigger problem next Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi, which are even more conservative places than Tennessee.

GWEN IFILL: Trey Grayson, let me bring you in this, because, alone among us, you’ve actually run for office in Kentucky statewide. And actually your state borders Ohio, which gives you room to talk about what happened in Ohio last night.

What did happen for your party last night?

TREY GRAYSON, Harvard University: Well, I think, in Ohio, what you saw was Romney performing very well in the urban areas, particularly in Cincinnati.

Rob Portman, who’s a new U.S. senator who is probably on a short list for anybody running for president on the Republican side, was a big backer of Mitt Romney. He had a lot of support there in 2008, when he ran last time. And those numbers came in late. And that’s what made Ohio so much of – you know it came in around midnight when we finally figured out who won.

GWEN IFILL: When you watch this from a blessed distance, do you think to yourself, well, the delegates are going win it in the end, or does this momentum or this perception of slowed momentum trump everything?

TREY GRAYSON: Well, they both matter.

I agree with what Susan said right off the top, that I do think Romney’s going to be the nominee. It’s going to take several months. And as we have seen in some of the polling data that’s come out in the last couple weeks, this primary’s been damaging for Romney and for the Republican Party in a way that the Obama-Clinton primary didn’t appear to be as damaging.

That’s a parallel that’s often tossed out, like, look, it didn’t hurt them in 2008. But it was a very different race. And I think that’s the fear if you’re Mitt Romney and his supporters is that he’ll ultimately win this, but that he will emerge weakened. And it’s always hard to beat an incumbent president. And a weakened nominee is not going to help make it any easier.

GWEN IFILL: And, Andy, yet, when you look at his chief challenger, Rick Santorum, he didn’t win people you’d expect him to win, like Catholics, or even get the margins you expected among Tea Party members.

ANDREW KOHUT: He has not won Catholics anywhere.

GWEN IFILL: That’s surprising.

ANDREW KOHUT: We’re going to ask a question on this week’s poll asking people — Republicans, if you know what religion he is.

I have real questions about that, because he hasn’t won Catholics anywhere.


ANDREW KOHUT: And in the Tea Party — he did well with Tea Party people in Tennessee and Oklahoma. But it was pretty even. One of the reasons why Santorum didn’t win Ohio is these Tea Party people didn’t perform the way Tea Party people have performed for the non-Romney candidates in most other places. Don’t know why.

GWEN IFILL: Yeah, that’s unclear why that is.

Do you see at all a path for someone like Newt Gingrich, who now says, I’m going to go to Mississippi, I’m going to go to Alabama, and I can tough this out one state at a time.

Do you see a path?

ANDREW KOHUT: Well, Gingrich is — opinion of Gingrich is pretty low nationwide.

And I think there are places where he’s going do well, but he’s not going to be the consistent challenger. The challenger at this point is Santorum. It would be really surprising to me if there was another resurrection of Newt Gingrich. It just doesn’t look possible.

GWEN IFILL: And let’s talk about Ron Paul. Even though he got that chunk of a percentage of the voters in Virginia, he didn’t win or even do well in Alaska, the caucus state that’s supposed to the heart of his stay-alive strategy.

SUSAN PAGE: And a place where he spent a couple days. He got huge crowds in Alaska, as he did in North Dakota and Idaho.


SUSAN PAGE: He didn’t win any of those other three caucus states.

A couple weeks ago, he failed to win in the Maine caucuses. I think that we’re seeing Ron Paul fall back to the same position he played in 2008, which is he has a band of loyal supporters, but they’re not big enough to win a primary and at this point not even big enough to win a caucus, although he continues to be the second best organized campaign.

His campaign organization is second only to Romney’s in terms of getting on ballots and doing the persistent job. When these caucuses go to the next round and the third round, we’ll know that the Ron Paul people will still be there.

GWEN IFILL: Trey Grayson, as you look at this, the other three candidates other than Mitt Romney who, as far as we know, are going nowhere — there have been no noises made about or preparation made for dropping out of the race and unifying — do you worry that that lack of unity, even though it’s only March, can hurt the eventual nominee in the long run?


I worry, as I said earlier, about this damaging process. But my hunch all along has been that when you get to the Republican Convention and Mitt Romney gets the nomination and he stands up and says, my name’s Mitt Romney, I’m the Republican nominee, my opponent is Barack Obama, that that is a unifying statement, that is a unifying act.

And similarly to 2008, where John McCain won, but didn’t exactly unify the party so much in that primary, and he actually got ahead in the polls up until the financial meltdown of 2008.

So I think a lot of the party base will be there. The question’s going to be the excitement level and then can he — was he so damaged in trying to win the primary that he has trouble getting those independent swing voters to come back to the Republican fold?

GWEN IFILL: Andy, let me ask you about the three E’s, enthusiasm, electability and excitement, three things that Trey Grayson just mentioned. Any sense of that last night?

ANDREW KOHUT: Well, I saw a really interesting thing in the Wall Street Journal poll. And that’s the enthusiasm gap that the Republicans have been holding over the Democrats has disappeared.

And only 45 percent of the people in Ohio said they voted strongly on behalf of their candidate. Most said they voted with reservations. Now, there was a little more enthusiasm in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

But this is a field that barely a majority of Republicans say they have a favorable view. It’s very low. And it’s quite unlike the struggle that the Democrats went through in a tough Obama and Mrs. Clinton race, where it was tough and competitive, but people were exhilarated.

The Republicans are not exhilarated. They’re — many of them are wary of — are not enthused by their choices.

GWEN IFILL: And they weren’t calling each others liars and cheats and fakes in the Democratic race four years ago, as the Republicans seem to be this time.

I guess, bottom line is, does the trajectory change, or does it just become a slog from here on in, Susan?

SUSAN PAGE: I think it’s going to be a slog for some time, especially because the calendar’s not friendly to Mitt Romney in March.

He really has to get to April before he’ll get to friendlier states, where he can have big celebratory victory nights. But I note that while the Republicans are having their problems, no question about it, it’s not as though Barack Obama is in such commanding position.

His average approval rating in February in Gallup poll was 45 percent. That’s not a winning job approval rating for incumbent presidents in the past, even though he had a pretty good month. And it was a month where Republicans were beating each other up.

GWEN IFILL: Okay. Well, we will be watching away. It all continues to unfold.

As always, Susan Page, Andrew Kohut, Trey Grayson, thank you all very much.

SUSAN PAGE: Thank you.