Coming off of his primary wins in liberal Maryland and DC and a relentlessly negative campaign in Wisconsin, Mitt Romney’s campaign has signaled to the other candidates for the Republican nomination for President that there will be no let-up in the negative tenor of his campaign going into Pennsylvania and the other spring primaries.
As Bloomberg’s Heidi Przybyla noted, the “defining feature of the 2012 Republican presidential primary race” has been Romney’s relentlessly negative campaign. According to Przybyla’s research, “Since the contests began, Restore Our Future has spent $35 million on commercials attacking Santorum and Newt Gingrich” and “just $1.1 million promoting Romney.”
According to Przybyla’s reporting, Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, Romney’s super PAC Restore Our Future aired 16 negative ads 41,612 times in GOP primary states such as Michigan, Florida and Colorado.
Romney’s negative ads, many of them factually questionable, have carpet bombed the conservatives in the race. As Romney has unleashed this wave of negativity, the campaigns of conservatives from Rick Perry, to Michele Bachmann, to Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich have withered, leaving Rick Santorum as the last conservative standing to bear the brunt of Romney’s attacks.
However, these attacks have done nothing to build support for Mitt Romney, especially among movement conservatives, and to the extent that Romney can claim front runner status it is because he has come to be seen as the “least worst” alternative by rank-and-file Republican primary voters.
Romney’s campaign has already made clear that it will employ the same hard-edged tactics that he used to crush Newt Gingrich in Florida and overtake Santorum in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin, to defeat Santorum in his home state of Pennsylvania.
Whether Romney’s slime machine campaign will work against Santorum in Pennsylvania remains to be seen – it didn’t work against Gingrich in his home state of Georgia where Newt buckled down and ran like he was running for county sheriff to neutralize the charge that he was an out of touch Washington insider.
Even if one accepts the fuzzy math that Romney claims puts him half way to the 1,144 delegates he needs to clinch the Republican nomination – and we don’t – his negative campaign has left him with a substantial enthusiasm deficit, and no real base upon which to mount a winning campaign against Barack Obama.
As long as Romney relies solely on negative advertising to tear down his more conservative Republican opponents, without making the positive case for his own bona fides to be the Republican standard-bearer, conservatives will have little reason to support him.
Given the huge hole that leaves in the Republican base, the other candidates should prepare to stay in the race all the way to Tampa, knowing that if Romney’s delegate count doesn’t give him the nomination on the first ballot, conservatives whom he has failed to convince during the primaries will continue to look for an alternative until the roll is called and the last vote is counted.