Romney seems likely to give Obama a run for his money

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
The Gazette, Wednesday, March 14, 2012

There came a point in the Democratic primary race in 2008 when it became clear that even as a war of attrition continued, Barack Obama would be the party's presidential nominee. Even as Hillary Clinton won in states like Ohio and Texas, Obama kept winning enough delegates to extend his lead.

The Republicans are at that point now in the 2012 race. Even as the primary season extends into spring, with four names still on the ballot, it's clear that Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee.

Going into Tuesday's primaries in Mississippi and Alabama, Romney had 455 of the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, while Rick Santorum was second with 199, with Newt Gingrich at 119 and Ron Paul at 64. Those two southern states had 90 delegates up for grabs, to be split proportionately in what the polls predicted to be a competitive three way race among Romney, Santorum and Gingrich. Paul, a Texas congressman who represents the libertarian/isolationist wing of the Republican Party, is the party's crazy, rich uncle. Nobody really takes him seriously, but he has enough money to stay in the game.

Romney, on the other hand, represents inevitability. He may not have clinched the nomination early, as he was expected to do, but he's done well enough to win it.

He has survived a winnowing process that has included a marathon run of 20 televised debates. He has survived other front-runners, from Michelle Bachman to Rick Perry, who have all disappeared after their 15 minutes of fame. He has even survived the hilarious musings of New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who never fails to mention that the Romneys once drove to a vacation in Canada with their family dog in a kennel strapped to the roof of the car.

Romney is the closest thing to a moderate, centrist, middle of the road Republican in a race where other candidates have been playing to the Tea Party on the far right.

Consider Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, who as a Catholic has disowned the separation of church and state as articulated by Jack Kennedy in the 1960 campaign. "I am not the Catholic candidate for president," Kennedy famously told a group of Protestant ministers in Houston, "I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic."

It's indicative of how much the religious right has come to play a role in U.S. politics that Santorum would renounce the most iconic Catholic figure in U.S. political history, one much revered in the Catholic coal towns of Pennsylvania.

But it's not clear whether Romney's religious affiliation as a Mormon has hindered his presidential bid.

The question, as Romney moves toward the nomination, is whether it's a prize worth having.

The answer is a definite yes. While the U.S. economy is on a modest roll, with 600,000 jobs created in the last three months, unemployment still stands at 8.1 per cent. Millions of Americans have simply given up looking for work.

Since the housing bubble burst and the financial crisis of 2008-09, the value of U.S. homes has plunged by 30 per cent, and as much as 40 per cent in states such as Florida. Uncounted millions of Americans, whose homes are their principal investments, are now carrying mortgages worth more than the value of their houses. Oh, and the price of gasoline is closing in on $4 per gallon.

Obama ran as the candidate of hope and change, and inherited a very big economic mess. He's enjoyed some success, notably on the auto bailout where he partnered with Stephen Harper to save the North American car industry. On foreign and defence policy, he's ended the U.S. war in Iraq, with an end in sight in Afghanistan. And he took down Osama bin Laden.

While foreign policy matters in U.S. elections, at the end of the day, the economy trumps everything. The U.S. economy needs fixing, and Romney has a narrative, in his private equity firm and at the Salt Lake Winter Olympics, as a turnaround guy.

Never mind the dog on the roof of the car. The rest of his story makes for competitive race with Obama.

 
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