“What’s up with Rick Santorum?” I asked the women on “A Woman’s View" this week. I knew one to be a Democrat, one to be a Republican, and I wasn’t sure about the politics of the third. (I’m still not.) “A few weeks ago Santorum was all but done, and now he’s neck and neck in nearly every poll. One poll suggests his support is even more durable than Romney’s because 55 percent of his backers support him ‘strongly’ while only 38 percent of Romney’s claim to support him strongly.”
Why hasn’t Romney been able to put this away yet?
“Mitt Romney is a very good candidate,” state transportation commissioner and former chairwoman of the Utah Democratic Party, Meghan Holbrook, opined. “He’s smart. He stays on message. He’s got a fabulous family. People aren’t unhappy if you make a lot of money; they’re just unhappy if you don’t tell them you did. And, this isn’t my opinion, but what I’m hearing is that people have an authenticity problem with Mitt. Plus, they think he’s not a conservative with a capital ‘C.’ ”
So why Santorum?
“It’s not so much love for Rick Santorum, God bless him,” Holbrook said.
Have you ever noticed how you can say almost anything if you follow it immediately with “God bless him” or "bless his heart"? For instance, that guy doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he’s doing, bless his heart. That kid doesn’t have the brains of a door knob, bless his heart. That woman should not be wearing a skirt that short, bless her heart. See how it works? It’s like Southern charm added to an insult softens it into something that feels like a comment your mother might make before she tells you to put your plate in the sink.
But where was I? Oh yes, Rick Santorum. “My 80-year-old conservative mother from Tennessee keeps calling me,” Holbrook continued, “saying ‘Newt is a mess. I’m embarrassed. I like Mitt, but I feel like he isn’t telling me enough. And I like Santorum, but he’s just not ready.’ ”
Holbrook’s 80-year-old mother may sound like America, bless her heart.
“I’m technically a Republican, but I don’t like to label myself,” Shauna Cheshire, a labor and delivery nurse at McKay-Dee Hospital, offered. “I don’t go to the caucuses. I don’t feel like I have a place right now. I think a lot of people feel like me, like things are happening all around us, and there just isn’t a place at the table for us. Mitt Romney has my support if he can get through the process.”
So, what about Rick Santorum?
“I think, seriously?” Cheshire said with frustration. “I don’t think he has a chance to beat Barack Obama in a general election. Why are we doing this?”
“People just aren’t sold on anybody yet, and they’re still learning,” Tanya Miller, a psychologist at the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, suggested. I asked her if she thought it was as Mitt Romney described, that this nominating process was sharpening the issues so the nominee would be all the more prepared to take on Obama. “This is what is happening,” she replied.
I have heard this election year described as a numbers game. If the economy improves enough between now and November, unemployment goes down sufficiently, the Dow goes up sufficiently, the price of oil stays reasonably stable, then the guy who is in office will likely stay. But if those numbers remain negative, if unemployment remains where it is or worsens, the Dow drops, the price of oil goes up, as it is predicted to do, then “the other guy” will get a chance to try to improve things. Mitt wants to be “the other guy,” and every other week looks like he will be.
Are we so predictable? Was President Clinton so dead on when he said, “It’s the economy, stupid”? Will we make our choice based on those numbers and nothing else? Should we consider anything else? What if the OPEC nations put oil into the market to hold down the price of gas during the election season? Would that amount to OPEC trying to get us to re-elect Obama? Or the opposite, if they don’t, should it matter to us that they may be trying to get us to elect a Republican? Are there businesses not hiring now on large scales, waiting until after the election, for the purpose of affecting the unemployment outlook? If that were the case, would that matter to us? Is it more than just a “numbers game”?
The next Republican contests aren’t until Feb. 28 in Michigan and Arizona. It will be interesting, indeed, to see whether Santorum can carry the momentum he is enjoying into those contests. Or maybe those states will surprise us and give their delegates to Ron Paul, bless his heart.