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The Primary Slog

(Bryan Snyder/Reuters/Newscom)

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Governor Mitt Romney continues to lead in the race for the Republican nomination, but his progress is painful and slow. He fairly consistently loses evangelicals, voters who describe themselves as “very conservative,” and low- and middle-income voters, while doing well among the affluent and those who describe themselves as “somewhat conservative.” The state-by-state results have largely reflected how many of each group can be found in each place. He is comfortably ahead in the delegate count, and it is hard to see anyone passing him. But it is not at all clear that he can win a majority of delegates. If he wins the nomination, having Obama on the ballot against him will help him win over some of the groups that are now cool to him. But his trouble with blue-collar voters will not be so easily fixed.

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Senator Rick Santorum has done remarkably well given his disorganized and lightly funded campaign. But that disorganization is one of the reasons he is unlikely to get the nomination — he has not even filed a full slate of delegates for the upcoming Illinois contest — and ought to worry Republicans if he does. Santorum, if nominated, would have to build a national organization essentially from scratch.

Speaker Newt Gingrich has won only two contests, in his home state of Georgia and in neighboring South Carolina. A regional campaign would be hopeless enough; his is now a sub-regional one. His continued presence in the race almost certainly helps Romney, the candidate he most despises. He is a man of many talents and accomplishments, but the longer he stays in the race the more he risks looking pathetic.

The nomination remains very much worth having, even if the contest has caused many voters to look unfavorably on the frontrunner, Romney. Democrats have sought to demoralize the Republicans by saying their man is a lock. He does indeed have a high floor of support — a higher one than Jimmy Carter did, for example. But his job-approval numbers are weak, and dismal on the economy and health care. His major legislative victories, the stimulus and Obamacare, remain unpopular. Most people tell pollsters they want a smaller government. Whichever candidate the Republicans finally choose, Romney or Santorum, will have plenty to work with.



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