MS. IFILL: Mitt, Rick, Newt, Ron, everyone’s still standing but for how long? We explore how the landscape changed this week and how Super Tuesday will change it again, tonight on “Washington Week.”
Momentum – one guy’s got it –
FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R): We didn’t win by a lot, but we won by enough, and that’s all that counts.
MS. IFILL: – the other guys want it back.
FORMER SENATOR RICK SANTORUM (R-PA): We have a lot of wind at our back heading here to Tennessee and we are going to be taking it all across these Super Tuesday states.
FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): I have to win Georgia I think to be credible in the race.
REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL (R-TX): They’re sound asleep in Washington. We have to be noisy so they hear us.
MS. IFILL: And they all want this man’s job.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I placed my bet on the American worker and I’ll make that bet any day of the week.
MS. IFILL: For Republicans, Super Tuesday may tell the tale, as candidates skip out west through the south, hunting for votes and delegates.
Covering the week: Charles Babington of the Associated Press, Gloria Borger of CNN, and John Dickerson of Slate Magazine and CBS News.
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation’s capital, this is Washington Week with Gwen Ifill produced in association with National Journal.
ANNOUNCER: Once again, live from Washington moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Let me give you an idea about how good a week this was for Mitt Romney. Last week at this table, we were talking about whether he might even survive the week, like his home state of Michigan, whether he would lose that. And Republican leaders were actively debating whether they were – whether their nominating convention was going to be utter chaos. Now, leading Republicans are debating whether Romney’s challengers should step aside to allow him to unify the party. But don’t think this thing is over yet. We’ll get to why in a moment.
First, we start with Mitt Romney’s very good week. With victories in Michigan and Arizona under his belt, he tried again to turn his attention back to President Obama.
MR. ROMNEY: This campaign is a choice for America as to what kind of a country we want. Barack Obama is turning us into a European welfare-type society where people feel they’re entitled to what their neighbor has.
MS. IFILL: But before Romney gets to debate the president, he has to get to Super Tuesday first. Is Ohio this week’s Michigan, John?
MR. DICKERSON: Yes, you know, it is – the stakes are high, you know, in this race, momentum hasn’t meant what it’s meant in other campaigns, where you win one context and that kind of carries on to the next one. In this one, it’s almost a sign that you’re going to lose the next big contest. And you know, Rick Santorum, won the three contests before Michigan and Arizona, then he lost them. Okay, so now, Mitt Romney has won these two contests.
Michigan – Ohio is like Michigan in that it has a lot of evangelical voters. It is the granddaddy of all swing states. You have to win Ohio to get to the presidency. So it’s crucial in a kind of larger context also. It’s got a lot of downscale voters, those voters who make less than $100,000. That’s interesting because those are some of the voters that Rick Santorum has gotten. Now, has he gotten them because he appeals to them in terms of their income or their economic situation, or is it because there’re a lot of evangelicals in that group? What we’re doing is refining the contours of this race. And for Mitt Romney, this is a place where if he shows he can beat Santorum and Gingrich in a head to head matchup, he can then argue, look, I’ve been able to bring my party together. I can get those conservative voters people used to think I couldn’t get, and now I can head on to Tampa as the nominee.
MS. IFILL: When you talk about the contours of the race and really interesting about that because I wonder the degree to which, looking back to Michigan, that tells us something about what we should expect in the next seven days.
MS. BORGER: Well, it’s kind of – you know – it’s kind of hard to say. I mean, I think that this whole race has been so unpredictable. As you say, goes up and down and up and down. There is no such thing as a bounce. But when I – when I look at Super Tuesday, I do think about Ohio. It’s kind of like Michigan without the family ties for Mitt Romney, so he’s got to make it on his own in Michigan. And also, one other thing – I mean in Ohio – one other thing is crossover voters. Don’t forget. It’s an open primary. So Rick Santorum is going to try to appeal to blue collar, Reagan Democrats –
MS. IFILL: And it didn’t work last time, though.
MS. BORGER: Right, but these are – well, that kind of backfired –
MS. IFILL: Right, exactly.
MS. BORGER: – to tell you the truth, but there is a real possibility here if you’re a Reagan Democrat and you feel like crossing over and you’re a voter who wants to vote for a Republican that Rick Santorum would appeal to you. That’s the appeal he’s had in the past.
MS. IFILL: And he’s ahead in the polls so far, but there is a problem which Mitt Romney’s always had, Chuck, all along, which is there is a subset of Republicans who just don’t like him very much. Is momentum enough to make up for that?
MR. BABINGTON: He’s had this problem, Gwen, as you know, because you’ve been on the road, too. You can spend a lot of time interviewing voters and not find one who’s really passionate about Mitt Romney. A lot of them say they’ll vote for him. The passion is not there. Probably the closest thing to a constant that we’ve seen in this race is when Mitt Romney is really in trouble, he throws a lot of money – he and the PAC that helps him – a lot of money into very negative TV ads and they’re very effective. And he pretty much destroyed Newt Gingrich in Iowa and then again in Florida doing that. He was very effective in bringing down Rick Santorum in Michigan. He’s heavily outspending Santorum in Ohio now. And that, you know, as much as we want to cover what they’re talking about in the speeches and all that, those negative ads are very, very effective.
MS. IFILL: Go ahead.
MR. DICKERSON: One interesting split in the exit polls in Michigan that I thought was interesting, first of all, Michigan was the first contest where we had one representative from sort of the establishment wing of the party, that’s Mitt Romney, and on representative, single representative from the insurgent populist wing. It was just Santorum, no – no Newt Gingrich splitting the vote. And if you look at the exit polls, those people who wanted somebody who could beat Barack Obama, they went for Romney 61 percent to 24 over Santorum.
MS. IFILL: Electability is back, right.
MR. DICKERSON: Electability key for them. But then, look at those people who wanted strong moral character. They went for Santorum by 41 points, and people who wanted a true conservative, also a 40 point margin for Santorum. So you have two parties within one party.
MS. BORGER: And that’s the fight. I mean that’s the fight. I mean, which Republican Party is it going to be? More of these exit polls from Michigan, voters 50 and over, Mitt Romney. A hundred thousand and over – income $100,000 and over, Mitt Romney. And again, electability, Mitt Romney, moral character.
MS. IFILL: So the Romney coalition are older, richer, more – less risk taking –
MR. BABINGTON: And pragmatic in a way –
MS. IFILL: And pragmatic –
MS. BORGER: And less strongly conservatives, self identified very conservative voters and strongly support the tea party are still generally going towards Rick Santorum.
MR. DICKERSON: And the thing to watch in Michigan – excuse me – in Ohio that he did in Michigan was that Romney was able to eat into Santorum’s base, get more – he won Republicans. Of the 60 percent of folks who voted in Michigan, he won them by 11 points. So he was able to go into that territory. Santorum, unable to get out of his territory of strong conservatives, even lost Catholics. As a Catholic lost Catholics to –
MS. IFILL: Let’s talk about Santorum and the other challengers because they have a lot writing on next Tuesday, and Ron Paul is also out there, trying to scarf up delegates in far-flung venues like Alaska, Washington, and Idaho. Newt Gingrich is counting on a win in Georgia, the state he represented in Congress for two decades.
MR. GINGRICH: Unlike Governor Romney, I’m not going to Washington to manage the decay, and unlike Senator Santorum, I’m not going to Washington to join the team.
MS. IFILL: And Rick Santorum is counting on Ohio, as we were saying, but the lead he once had there in the polls is shrinking. This was his pitch today at a rally in Chillicothe.
MR. SANTORUM: In this election, we need a choice. We need a choice. We don’t need a choice between Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. We need a clear choice. Don’t buy the media rhetoric that oh, well, now it’s over.
MS. IFILL: Chuck, you spent a lot of time with Rick Santorum. Is that his basic strategy, saying I am the clear alternative?
MR. BABINGTON: Yes, Gwen. We were just talking about the electability problem that he has, and it is a big problem. In state after state, Republicans just say very important to me to beat Obama, they tend to go for Mitt Romney. Santorum has been arguing with, I think, limited success the best way to beat Barack Obama is with a very clear dramatic contrast in the fall. He says that Mitt Romney is too much like Obama, especially on health care. That’s his favorite point to make and he says the Massachusetts plan was a model for what they call ObamaCare.
But I think there’s so much else going on and in some ways Santorum maybe detracts from his own message or augments it when he gets in all these social issues about birth control and the Catholic Church and John F. Kennedy speech, that he might be watering down that mess.
MS. IFILL: So then on election night he found himself having to backpedal on some of this and make this really kind of remarkable explicit appeal to women voters, by talking about his mother was a working woman, and his wife who was a working woman. And that seems to me, his effort to kind of pull back.
MS. BORGER: Well, yes. I mean, he lost women in Michigan, not by as much as I actually thought he might have lost women. I think it was, what, five or six points.
MR. DICKERSON: Five points. And only working women only by two points.
MS. BORGER: Right. So I – that was interesting because it wasn’t as much, but I think he understands that he has had a problem with women and will continue to have a problem with women, and also have a problem with Catholic voters of all things, because he took on JFK, and I think the contraception issue with women has become an issue. And he’s trying now to get back to his economic message to differentiate himself from Barack Obama. But again, Mitt Romney has had some success there. At the CNN debate, Rick Santorum was playing defense an awful lot of the time, talking about earmarks and why he defended earmarks and why he took one for the team, which makes him sound like an insider.
MS. IFILL: Which is – is now an ad against him.
MS. BORGER: Right.
MS. IFILL: But it seems also – we’re talking a lot about Ohio, but there’s got to be a path around or including other states.
MR. DICKERSON: Well, and Rick Santorum has a bit of a tricky problem here because on the one hand, he’s competing with Romney in Ohio, but then he also wants to compete in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and to a lesser extent, Georgia – lesser extent because it’s the, of course, Gingrich state. He’s got – because he wants to be the – why is he having a two-front war – well, he also has to beat Gingrich and become the single alternative, the single conservative alternative to Romney. Now, the problem for him in Ohio and the benefit Romney has in Ohio that’s distinct and different from Michigan, is he’s running against both Santorum and Gingrich. His hope in life is that Gingrich will do well enough to take those anti-Romney voters and split them nicely and cleanly with Santorum, giving Romney a victory in Ohio.
MS. IFILL: Aside from South Carolina, this is a first real trip to the South. How about Tennessee and Oklahoma, Georgia, as we mentioned? Newt Gingrich has said I’ve got to win in Georgia to be credible.
MR. BABINGTON: He’s really hunkered down in Georgia. I went to a big tea party rally in Chattanooga with Rick Santorum. He was very well received. It was at a very large church on a Saturday afternoon. I talked to his campaign chairman there and she felt that he would do great in the state, but, you know, you’ve got to consider the source. It does seem like that’s an opportunity for Santorum. He’s certainly not getting a lot of attention.
MS. BORGER: Yes, Mitt Romney’s also making a play in Tennessee and I think if you’re a serious Republican contender for the nomination, I do think you have to prove that you can win in the South. Let’s – okay, Florida, separate issue, but you know, Mitt Romney lost in South Carolina by a huge amount and I think they believe in the campaign that for credibility they ought to be able to win in the South. So they have to win somewhere in the Midwest, without the family ties, and somewhere in the South.
MS. IFILL: How about the delegate counting drama? We had a little dust-up with Romney and Santorum yesterday because Michigan counted their delegates in a way they gave Romney an edge. And you hear Ron Paul saying, hey, I’ve got all these delegates. Everyone’s claiming to have more delegates than the numbers suggest.
MR. DICKERSON: Part of what you do is if you haven’t lost in the popular vote, you talk about delegates, because you can say, as Santorum tried to, the day after the vote, he said, look, I tied, 15 delegates to 15 delegates with Mitt Romney. So in fact, I won.
MS. BORGER: Only it didn’t turn out that way.
MR. DICKERSON: It didn’t turn out that way. And his argument was I won because I went so far into Mitt Romney’s home turf and got 15 delegates, so hooray for me. The problem for Santorum was he, as a momentum candidate, needed a big knockout to get big momentum, but in terms of the numbers Romney is well ahead and has organization in future states where the numbers give him part of his edge in why people think he’s the likely –
MS. IFILL: The other problem for Santorum is that he’s not organized enough to have gotten all his delegates slates up in all the counties in Ohio.
MR. BABINGTON: Like Gingrich is not even on the ballot in Virginia. He didn’t get up on all the delegates slates in Ohio. You’re right. He really has a shoestring operation in a way you can admire him for that, but it’s really remarkable to try to cover him and it is – there’s almost no infrastructure whatsoever. He’s very efficient. I’ll give him that, but –
MS. IFILL: You live by the sword, your delegates –
MS. BORGER: But he’s also off – I mean, there’s no – there seems to be no message control. And one thing you have to have when you’re a successful candidate is message control. And by the way, I’m not so sure Mitt Romney’s had great message control either. I think that both of these candidates closed pretty badly going into Arizona.
MS. IFILL: Well, let me tell you who’s watching all of this with a little bit of enjoyment, because while the Republican are sorting all this out, the president seemed to be warming to the idea of using the world’s best bully pulpit for a little politics. Earlier this week, he made the pitch to unions. Last night, he was to well-heeled New Yorkers.
PRES. OBAMA: If you’re willing to hold that vision that we have for America in your hearts, then I promise you change will come. And if you’re willing to work as hard as you did in the last election and this election, then we will finish what we started and remind the world just why it is that America is the greatest nation on earth.
MS. IFILL: The president seems to be very interested in reminding the world, A, that he is there, A, that he is the clear choice, and B, that he’s not all the things that these Republicans are saying that he is. So back in the fray, right?
MR. DICKERSON: Yes, you could argue he’s been in the fray for a long time. (Laughter.) You know, it’s hard to figure out when he got out of the fray. But they are – I mean he enjoys it. He’s been looking for an opponent because it’s better. As they’ve said, for so long, we want this to be a choice and not a referendum. Also, the numbers are turning his way a little bit. And he was able to do some nice contrast when he spoke to the UAW, the autoworkers about the bailout of Detroit, while the Republicans were there saying the bailout was so terrible and horrible. The president – and in the White House, they like to say, the president placed a lot of bets early on, and those bets are paying off. And what the president was able to say to all of those screaming fans in the UAW there was I placed a bet on you. You came through. It’s the American people. He wraps himself in the story of America and the flag. And it’s – you know – he’s going full bore.
MS. IFILL: He did another interesting thing today. He kind of inserted himself into this kerfuffle involving Rush Limbaugh and the woman who Rush Limbaugh called a foul name because of her support of contraceptive coverage. And he called her and congratulated her and said he supported her. He doesn’t normally get into this sort of thing.
MS. BORGER: Yes. No, it was political. It’s not very often the president will pick up the phone and just call someone who’s testified before Congress. And you know, obviously –
MS. IFILL: He gets to make Rush Limbaugh the enemy.
MS. BORGER: He gets to make Rush Limbaugh the enemy and, you know, you had Rick Santorum today coming out and calling what Rush Limbaugh said absurd. But – so the president was, I think, you know, wanted to get into the fray because, after all, the more contraception is an issue, the less they’re talking about the economy. The more the Republican campaign kind of goes down the rabbit hole in another direction, the happier the White House is.
MS. IFILL: But the more gas prices go up and economy and energy is an issue, the more of a problem, which is why we hear Gingrich out there talking I can bring you $2.50 gas.
MR. BABINGTON: Right. The gas price has got to be one of the biggest if not the biggest concern on the president’s part. It was interesting, that little clip you just played, he said, I promise you change will come. You might think, well, wait a minute, you’re the president. Generally, you don’t run for a second term on change, which of course was his mantra, but obviously he –
MS. IFILL: Didn’t you promise that last time?
MR. BABINGTON: Exactly.
MS. IFILL: Yes.
MR. BABINGTON: Clearly what he’s referring to, I think is the economy primarily. And what he’s got to hope is that the public will believe that most of the – that it’s been the Republican Congress that has impeded him and the leftovers from the Bush administration. So he can still talk about change, but that is a little tricky what he’s trying to do there.
MS. IFILL: It’s also interesting because in the last couple of weeks, no matter which Republican candidate you cover, they all talk about the president as a weak man when it comes to foreign policy. And today, he gave – or this week, he gave an interview to Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic, in which he talked about how he would act when it comes to Iran to protect Israel. And he said, I don’t bluff. Well, it sounded like he was very much saying, I’m a tough guy, not what they say.
MR. DICKERSON: Yes, well, he is, and obviously one other thing – the slogan, the unofficial slogan from the White House is “Bin Laden dead and GM alive.” Well, he did the GM alive piece, when he was talking about how the bailout helps the auto industry. And I think that’s true. He’s also sending specific messages there in terms of the – I mean that’s not just an election message, but also an international message he was sending through that interview in that posture. But I don’t think he’s going to cede the national security toughness question at all to the Republican candidates.
MS. IFILL: There’s one more piece – another shoe that dropped in the political front this week we can talk about before the show is over. And it’s as the presidential campaigns were biting each other on the left and the right, the voices in the middle were disappearing. This week, famously moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snowe announced she’s leaving the Senate, following in the path of other discouraged centrists who have either quit or are facing serious challenges this fall. She did not mince her words.
SENATOR OLYMPIA SNOWE (R-ME): People are just stunned by the debilitating partisanship, polarization and the overall dysfunction, you know, of the institution. And the political paralysis has become, you know, to the point of extreme when it comes to resolving the problems facing this country.
MS. IFILL: Debilitating paralysis. That’s really strong language, Chuck. Congress is about to really change.
MR. BABINGTON: Congress –
MS. IFILL: If it hasn’t already.
MR. BABINGTON: Yes, well, this – this gridlock as has been growing and growing has become a huge problem. It’s really quite shocking for Senator Snowe, I think, to say she wasn’t going to run because she’s a very able politician. She’s really figured out her state of Maine. I think there’s no question she could have been reelected, but she’s sick of it. And when she’s not the only person in the middle. You’ve got Ben Nelson, Democrat from Nebraska, getting out, Joe Lieberman, there’re several others.
And what you’re seeing is this continuation of the growing partisanship and it’s particularly a problem in the Senate because the Senate is set up really to solve problems in the middle. And you have the filibuster power that gives the minority party a tremendous amount of power. But what you really got is a partisanship that’s almost like a parliamentary system, or sort of like in the House, where the parties do not work together on hardly anything.
MS. IFILL: So as a result of that, the Republicans – their chances of taking over the Senate faded a lot this week.
MS. BORGER: Did fade a lot and I can only imagine the conversations that she might have had with the Senate leader, Republican leader, who would have wanted her to stay because she was going to get reelected, and that this turns her seat into a clear toss-up, maybe even lean Democrats.
MR. BABINGTON: It doesn’t give them much time to fund.
MS. BORGER: And it doesn’t give them much time, but I think the sense of frustration that you hear from someone like Olympia Snowe, who’s worked so hard on so many issues – health care being one of them – that I think she finally felt, you know what, I can’t affect change anymore.
MS. IFILL: And briefly, John, is it the social issues, is it – these discussions we’re having about social issues which is driving the wedge?
MR. DICKERSON: Maybe, but not necessarily. What is driving sometimes the wedge is the challenges in the primaries in your own party. But that’s not always about social issues.
MS. IFILL: Okay. Okay, well, thank you all very much. I know it went very quickly but because we have to leave a few minutes early so you can support your local PBS station, which in turn, supports us. Judy Woodruff and I will be on the hand Tuesday night for special NewsHour Super Tuesday coverage. You can follow our reports online, on air, and keep up with us on the web, at web exclusives from Tennessee, Ohio, Alaska, and Washington State, as well as our panelists reports at pbs.org/washingtonweek.
Thank you and we’ll see you next week on Washington Week. Good night.