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Romney and Santorum’s Weaknesses Remain



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David French beat me to the punch, but in CNN’s exit polls, two patterns have emerged: Mitt Romney’s troubles with evangelicals and Rick Santorum’s struggle to broaden his support.

Romney’s failure to connect with evangelicals is well documented, but exit polls show this weakness persists. His worst showing was in Iowa, where 56 percent of caucus goers were evangelical, and only 14 percent of them voted for him. Within this demographic, Romney’s support has bounced between a quarter and a third depending on the state.

Romney has swept evangelicals in some states — those he won by landslides. In Virginia, for instance, 44 percent of voters were evangelicals, and Romney won 62 percent of them — because Santorum wasn’t on the ballot. Romney also won this group in New Hampshire, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Vermont — states with smaller evangelical populations. The sheer number of evangelicals in a state often acts as an indicator of his strength.

Santorum hasn’t cleaned up among evangelicals. In Tennessee, for instance, where 73 percent of voters were evangelicals, only 42 percent of them voted for Santorum. Twenty-five percent voted for Gingrich, meanwhile, and 24 percent for Romney. Oklahoma witnessed the same phenomenon: In the Sooner State, 72 percent of voters were white evangelicals, and only 37 percent of them voted for Santorum. Romney and Gingrich, on the other hand, won 27 percent each. And in Georgia, where 64 percent of voters were evangelical, Gingrich won 52 of their vote, while Santorum and Romney won 24 and 19 percent respectively.

Despite speculation that Santorum could broaden his appeal, he loses voters who care most about the economy almost every time. He won this demographic for the first time in Tennessee, where 50 percent of voters said the economy was the most important issue, and 34 percent of them chose Santorum. Romney, however, was only three percentage points behind at 31 percent. Even in razor-thin Ohio, where 54 percent of voters considered the economy most important, 41 percent of them favored Romney, while 33 percent favored Santorum.

Those in favor of an extended primary argue the drawn-out process strengthens the eventual victor, but this primary seems to be demonstrating merely which of the candidates’ weaknesses is more fatal.



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