Despite several key endorsements for Mitt today and in recent days and the wailing and gnashing of teeth seen and heard coming out of the Santorum Campaign, it still seems reasonable to wonder about the significance of the results in Louisiana on Saturday. Jack Welch, the highly successful, former CEO of General Electric stated that Mitt Romney is the most qualified leader to run for president of these United States in his life time. I agree with that assessment, not only based on what anyone can see if they take the time to look closely at Mitt’s record of accomplishments, but also based on personal knowledge going back 45 years. Voters in Louisiana, however, came to a very different conclusion on Saturday for reasons seemingly unknown to most reporters and commentators.
What happened there and what does it mean? The first clear conclusion is that the good people of Louisiana voted differently than 40% of the Republican voters in 28 or so states as well as several possessions and territories. Other than the obvious conclusion of differences of opinion, we can look at the significance from the standpoint of mathematics and momentum, and with respect to a category that we will label as “other,” at least for the moment.
According to the tally at RealClearPolitics.com, with the election results leading up to the Louisiana Republican Primary Mitt’s had already received 55.3% of the 1,013 delegates that had been awarded to date. The results in Louisiana increased Santorum’s percentage of total delegates from 24.3% to 24.9% and caused Mitt’s percentage to drop from 55.3% to 55.0%, for a net increase for Santorum of 0.9 of one percentage point. The obvious mathematical conclusion is that the outcome is insignificant with respect to delegates, despite the Santorum Campaign’s accusation of “bad math” for counting delegates. Santorum said that the approach everyone is using “makes Romney’s lead look bigger.” That less than convincing rhetoric notwithstanding, I have to agree with David French of the Evangelicals for Mitt Web site and National Review, who concluded in The Corner of the site, “It’s Over, and It Wasn’t Close.” He added:
Santorum has delayed the sense of inevitability [for Mitt] in part by persuading the media to focus only on the races that Santorum chose to emphasize. Why, for example, were the eyes of the world focused only on Michigan rather than also on the winner-take-all state of Arizona? Why was Ohio the only relevant prize on Super Tuesday? Santorum ran an outstanding campaign in part because he was always able to appear stronger than he was.
Given the deflation of election numbers balloon, how much momentum will the Louisiana success provide for Santorum going forward? Looking to Alabama and Mississippi for an indication of what the future might hold, it is clear that those states did not carry a lot of weight in Illinois, despite being hailed in the media as great victories for the Santorum camp.
Looking next at recent news for contests that are further out, one in particular promises to be much more significant than anything held to date: The big prize of California will allocate its 172 delegates in June on a “winner take all” basis. Unfortunately for Santorum, a recent poll there shows Mitt leading with 42 percent of registered Republican voters on his side compared to Santorum’s 23%, a margin of 19 points and perhaps the widest margin seen anywhere to date.
Considering contests that are to occur next week, is it possible that the news will improve for Santorum and that the Louisiana victory will have significant impact on the next contests in Wisconsin, Maryland, and the District of Columbia? A Rasmussen poll from Friday for Wisconsin has Mitt up by 13 points, but no polls have been released for Maryland. For what it is worth, however, Intrade shows a 98% probability of Mitt winning there. As for Washington, D.C, Santorum unfortunately did not qualify for the ballot there, a problem summarized by a piece in US News and World Report:
According to reports, the Santorum campaign never even contacted the D.C. Board of Elections, much less pay the fee or request a petition to collect signatures.
Finally, let’s look at the “other” aspects of the Louisiana contest. Returning to CNN’s exit polls, just as we have seen in the past in the South, Santorum’s strengths lie with a particular group, one that is prevalent in those states but not so much elsewhere. In Louisiana, 61% of the voters identified themselves as “Born Again or Evangelical Christian” and voted for Santorum 56% and Romney 20%. Of the people who go to church weekly, 58% voted for Santorum and 21% for Romney. For voters who said that the religious beliefs of the candidates matter a “great deal,” 67% went for Santorum and 15% for Romney.
Now, perhaps the most revealing question for this discussion comes from a cross-tabulation of results. Asked which quality they viewed as the most important for the candidate, 38% said that defeating Obama was most important, and 50% of that group picked Romney. The group that selected “Strong Moral Character” accounted for 23% of the voters and went for Santorum 71% and 6% for Romney. Considering Mitt Romney’s background, his family, his record, this outcome is very difficult, if not impossible, to explain on any other but religious grounds. No one who has any inkling of who Mitt Romney is as a person questions his moral character!
The results were similar in Alabama and Mississippi, which prompted my friend and colleague, Daniel Peterson, to write on his new blog:
Among those who said that a candidate’s moral character was important to them, Governor Romney — son of a widely respected business leader, governor, and cabinet secretary; faithful husband for more than four decades; father of five exemplary sons; former governor; extraordinarily successful businessman; savior of the 2002 Winter Olympics; unpaid minister — was tied with Newt Gingrich, while Rick Santorum walked off with 60% of their vote. Mr. Romney, many Santorum voters explained, didn’t share their values.
So, how are the Louisiana results being covered, other than being hailed as constituting a great victory for Santorum? Many in the media seek to cast the group voting against Mitt simply as “strong conservatives,” which of course is true. Unfortunately, the fact that this group also happen to be religious in a special sort of way is almost entirely ignored in most of their discussions.
I was pleased yesterday to finally see someone in a prominent media position begin to take this important issue seriously. Al Hunt, the executive editor of Bloomberg News writes:
“This nomination would be in the bag if it weren’t for the Mormon factor,” says John Geer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University who works on the intersection of religion and politics.
Hunt concludes with the warning that religion might not only be an issue for the primaries, but it could also pose a challenge for the general election. He points out a delicate balancing to be faced in November, saying that some voters would hold a better of view Mitt if he stresses his Christian values. To do that, according to one of Hunt’s sources, would be to certainly alienate certain Evangelical voters.
Such commentary helps point out that the problem exists, however, an even better outcome would be an exploration of the possibility that organized efforts perhaps account for the consistent voting pattern we have been seeing during this election cycle. Such an exploration would at least pay some intellectual tribute to Article VI of the United States Constitution, which states, “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
While we await that unlikely outcome, let’s summarize with a few more words from my friend, Dan:
I’ll be frank: Although, sadly, this doesn’t surprise me, it depresses and exasperates me. One of my sons has served as an officer aboard a nuclear submarine. My Danish immigrant grandfather served in the U.S. Army during the Spanish American War. My father was a sergeant in the Eleventh Armored Division, part of General Patton’s Third Army, during World War Two, participating in the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Mauthausen, in Austria.
(In the photo posted here …those liberated Mauthausen prisoners who are still capable of walking and standing welcome members of the Eleventh Armored Division. The banner across the wall says “Los Españoles Antifascistas Saludan a Las Fuerzas Liberadoras” [The Spanish Antifascists Greet the Liberating Forces]. The text is also written, in smaller letters, in English and Russian.)
Some of my ancestors arrived in New England in the 1630s. Others helped to settle areas of the Midwest and the West in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My family have been construction workers, farmers, rocket scientists, housewives, teachers, ranchers, engineers, businessmen, truck drivers, welders, postal clerks, and nurses. They’ve been instrumental in building up communities across North Dakota, Utah, California, and elsewhere.
Yet, it seems, my wife, my children, my brother, my extended family, my in-laws, and many of my friends and colleagues — whatever their other contributions and merits may be — are effectively being judged unworthy of full participation in American political life.
We can serve in the military, and we can pay taxes, and our leaders certainly want our votes. But we’re not really fully-certified Americans. (MSNBC’s Chris Matthews essentially said so just yesterday.)
Dan’s post makes for even better reading in its entirety. As for me, I will once again quote Forrest Gump, “And that’s all I have to say about that!”