Minds But Not Hearts Won Over

I don’t know if this is a significant finding at all, but it’s worth hearing: despite Mitt Romney’s “sweep” of five primaries yesterday, he’s still showing some notable weakness among GOP voters as compared to previous “presumptive nominees” at similar junctures. That’s the judgment that Eric Ostermeier of the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics site reaches after examining primary results in previous cycles dating back four decades:

Over the last 40 years there have been nearly 80 contests in which the presumptive Republican nominees played out the string after their last credible challenger exited the race.

In every one of these contests, the GOP frontrunner won at least 60 percent of the vote, even when ex- and long-shot candidates remained on the ballot.

But on Tuesday, Romney won only 56 percent of the vote in Delaware and 58 percent in Pennsylvania, home to Rick Santorum who dropped out on April 10th.

While Romney avoided the embarrassment of winning with a mere plurality, never has a presumptive nominee won a primary contest with such a low level of support at this stage of the race with his chief challenger no longer actively campaigning.

In Romney’s defense, his relatively poor performance in Pennsylvania was mainly attributable to the 18% drawn by former candidate and Pennsylvanian Rick Santorum. And in Delaware, Newt Gingrich decided to test Woody Allen’s adage that “90% of life is just showing up,” figuring First State votes would reward him for all but camping out there. He didn’t win, but did well enough to hold Mitt below 60%.

With 14–that’s right, 14–primaries still left on the calendar, we’ll have plenty of evidence to determine if PA and DE are just outliers, or if Ostermeier is on to something and Romney really is struggling to win over the hearts if not the minds of party conservatives.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.