Mitt Romney is emerging as the grown-up in the GOP primary process, which is too bad. He will not win the nomination. He would make the strongest candidate for the Republicans in 2012 but he cannot win the primaries. The primary process does not require sanity and moderation in the GOP race. The candidate must appeal to the Tea Party, evangelicals, fundamentalists, and right wing conservatives who vote on social issues.
And they rarely vote for Mormons.
Romney's problems with the radical right go a bit beyond his religion. He has refused to sign an abortion pledge because the way it was worded meant that too many federally funded hospitals would be forced to close. He decided that everyone in his state ought to have health care and passed a bill his own party derisively calls Romneycare. He thinks that global warming is a real issue but he is not sure about human contribution to the problem. And he doesn't seem afire with desire to stop gay people from getting married.
Romney makes too much sense to win this GOP nominating process.
And lucky Ricky Perry is the guy in the perfect position to win by default. The Texas governor is neither as smart or as poised as the former Massachusetts governor but he's close enough to be the first choice of the primary voters who will take their anger against Obama into the polls this winter and into next spring. Romney's repeated squishiness on social issues will give them pause and then his religion will help them make their decision to vote for Perry. He is consistently conservative on the social issues that matter to primary voters.
And he is not a Mormon.
Religion is the biggest issue in the GOP primary and it is being completely ignored in the debates and public discourse. The only way a Republican can win back the White House in 2012 is with a southern strategy that turns out huge numbers of conservative Christian voters. And conservative Christian voters do not view the Mormon faith as being a part of Christendom. If Romney is the nominee, they will stay home and President Obama will be easily reelected. Romney's campaign keeps trying to suggest that a tiny percentage of evangelical voters will ignore him because of his faith, which is unfounded optimism.
James Gimpel, a GOP political scientist and consultant, argued in the Boston Globe that Romney is failing to recognize what could be an "insurmountable" problem with fundamentalist Christians. "The question is whether a church-going Christian is willing to set those differences aside as irrelevant to holding the office of president, or take them quite seriously as heretical and cultish. There are a great many evangelical Christians who would have a hard time justifying a vote for Romney under any circumstances."
But they are enthusiastic about the wildly conservative Christian Rick Perry.
Republicans must carry the south, including Florida and Texas, to win the presidency because they will split the plains states and the Intermountain West. The president will win New York and California and the Northeast and the election will come down to the Midwest. Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania are the electoral votes that will pick the president. Romney can do well in that part of the country; his father was a popular governor of Michigan. But it is irrelevant unless he wins the south and that is impossible. A Mormon cannot win Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, the Carolinas, and, consequently, the White House.
A 2007 Pew poll reported that 43% of Christians do not believe Mormonism is a Christian religion and among Christian evangelicals that number jumps to 57%. The unanswered question until Election Day is how many of those evangelicals will cast a ballot for a Mormon, who has also been vague or contrarian on social issues that matter to religious conservatives. A significant number of these people view Mormonism as a cult. They will not vote for Mitt Romney.
Rick Perry will have to make a huge mistake to lose this GOP election. Christian conservatives in Iowa will make him a big winner. If he loses in New Hampshire, where Romney has a home and has been campaigning for four years, Perry will win handily in South Carolina as well as Florida. On Super Tuesday, which includes (under current GOP scheduling rules) states like Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, and Virginia, Perry will win handily. Romney has the resources to stay at least through that March 6th multi-state contest but the race will not last any longer and he will be forced to concede.
Romney and Jon Huntsman, both Mormons, are the best candidates for the GOP to have a chance against President Obama. But neither of them will survive the primaries because of their faith. Rick Perry will win.
And the GOP will lose.
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