Gerald Herbert, Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets supporters at a campaign rally in Kentwood, Mich., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012.

WASHINGTON — Maybe the Republicans will have a real whiz-bang convention when they get to Tampa in August. The odds are still against it, despite the neck-and-neck race between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.

The polls show them in a dead heat nationally, but the betting still is on Romney to win, even if it's by a nose. The usual reason applies here: money. Romney has more of it than Santorum, and that means buying the advertising and organization necessary. But this is a battle for the nomination, and the Republican conservatives who have fed Santorum's rise quite obviously don't count Romney as their best choice.

If Romney should falter in his home state of Michigan, in the face of growing support there for Santorum, the entire dynamic might change. Then the question would become whether the former Pennsylvania senator with the retro ideas on social issues could whip President Barack Obama, given that Americans are mainstream voters who rarely shift far left or right. Clearly, Santorum appeals to much of the GOP's sizable right-oriented base. Are Republicans willing to put ideology above electability? Don't bet against it.

So far, electability has played a major role in Romney's success, as up and down as that has been. He is considered moderate enough to at least hold his own with independents and those Republicans who generally vote the middle. Should Romney be forced more to the right just to win the nomination, his chances of beating Obama also diminish. This is especially true because economic indications — including employment figures — suddenly have given the president a sunnier re-election forecast.

There are so many variables it is hard to keep up with them. The one constant is that Romney, despite his front-running status for most of the campaign, clearly doesn't excite Republicans. A whole batch of the GOP faithful find him not only dull and perhaps a bit too privileged, but also the perfect model of the very rich white guy who has dominated American politics from the nation's very beginning.

Then there is Romney's religion. While few speak openly about the history of Mormonism, most political experts believe that, unfortunately, there's an underlying element of religious intolerance.

How that manifests itself in the long run is anyone's guess. But religious bias seems to have become a more prominent element of today's politics than in 1960, when Jack Kennedy became the first Catholic elected to the White House.

Only two months into the primary season, the race seems in danger of generating a political overload. Add that to the fact that much of the country's necessary business has been set aside, and voters have a right to fear where we are headed. Congress is paralyzed and the president is in full campaign mode. Only Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the candidate Democrats rejected four years ago, seems to have her priorities straight, leaving a whole lot of voters wondering what if.

17 comments on this story

The last time there was even a hint of the old-fashioned conventions that captivated us for weeks was in 1968, when Richard Nixon held off a challenge from Ronald Reagan in Miami and the Democrats darn near tore up their party over Vietnam in Chicago. The Republicans have five months to shake down to a nominee. Chances are they will manage to accomplish this, despite turning us all off along the way. Is there anything we don't already know about these guys?

In the meantime, you may want to plug your ears, close your eyes and think about other things.

Dan K. Thomasson is the former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service. Email: