The effective end of Rick Santorum’s doomed nomination campaign will finally allow Americans to focus their attention where it belongs, on the choice between the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, and the incumbent, Democrat Barack Obama. Polls show a tight race. The election is likely to be decided by the state of the U.S. economy between now and Nov. 6 – not so much on GDP numbers and other statistics, but according to how Americans actually experience the economy.
Mr. Santorum ran an inspired campaign. The grandson of a coal miner, his personal narrative is very much the American dream. His connection with American workers, who have suffered terribly since the crash of 2008, was real. His deep social conservatism, however, which helped to bring him some surprising primary victories and excited support among right-wingers, was ultimately his undoing. He was too far outside the political mainstream.
Despite his efforts to establish right-wing credentials, Mr. Romney could not fully conceal his underlying moderation. He has run a remarkably uninspired campaign and – in part because of his vast personal wealth – has had difficulty making a connection with the average voter. His favourability numbers are poor, nowhere near those of his Democratic opponent. If he is to win the presidency, there is no doubt that he will have to do a much better job reaching voters.
Even so, Mr. Romney successfully weathered the protracted nomination battle. No serious dirt was unearthed, and he commands a well-financed (thanks in part to Super PACs), highly professional organization, one propelled by massive television ad buys. The long Republican nomination process had started to hurt his chances. Now, rather than engaging in internecine warfare, the Romney machine will be able to focus its attention on Mr. Obama.
Mr. Romney must now, with some urgency, get to work on attracting middle-of-the-road, independent voters, without causing the hardline Republican Party base to feel betrayed – and without eventually finding himself in opposition to his own party, if victory brings him to the White House.