More than a few political commentators have speculated that a long primary process would leave a GOP candidate like Mitt Romney bruised and battered, making him easy pickings for President Barack Obama. Recent history, however, shows the opposite may be true. The nomination fight between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton was not over until June, and was one of the most bruising primary battles in history.
When it was all over, Obama came out stronger because of it, and won the election. Republican nominee Senator John McCain, by comparison, had a much easier primary process, and lost in an electoral landslide.
A few weeks ago, Romney was slipping behind. Now, after winning both Arizona and Michigan on Tuesday, Romney has shown that he is actually growing on conservatives instead of wearing thin. The pair of contests also marked the first time that Romney made decent progress in putting to bed the perception that conservatives just won’t support him.
According to exit polls in Arizona, Romney won those who considered themselves to be somewhat conservative, beating Santorum 54% to 23%. With those who considered themselves to be very conservative, Romney won 41% to 35%. He also won with a majority of Tea Party supporters.
In Michigan, Romney still had the advantage, despite a closer race. Romney won those who considered themselves to be somewhat conservative, 50% to 32%. Romney also easily won with voters whose top issue was the economy.
Romney is gaining with conservatives, and adapting both his primary tactics and debating style each time around. To win a general election, a candidate has to learn from his/her mistakes, and Romney has learned from his. He won both open and closed primaries because he stopped apologizing for his wealth, and has shown that just because he held office in Massachusetts does not mean he cannot be a conservative.
A year ago, everyone thought Romney would be running away with it. Now, despite his money and organization, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich have been making him fight for every single delegate. Many Republicans no doubt respect him more now, because instead of running away with it, he has instead been earning it.
Instead of whittling wood, the primary process is having the effect of tempering steel. Romney may not be perfect, but he is a fighter. When he showed real life in the debates and stopped apologizing for his success, people began to reevaluate him. Now, with the conservative gap narrowing and two more wins under his belt, Romney has a chance to seal the deal.
There is one added advantage to a longer process as well. If Romney ends up the GOP's nominee after a hard fought struggle instead of a coronation, Republicans just might feel that he is more of a champion for the cause, and less of a compromise.
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