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Coming off of the full sweep by Rick Santorum of the Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota elections, there have been some rising concerns about whether any of these Republican candidates can unite the field. The conventional wisdom has been for a long time that Romney can't excite conservatives and that would be his eventual downfall.
But then there's the concern that none of the others can excite conservatives either. What does that mean for the general election? And is the concern a valid one. Here's how the argument goes:
Perhaps it's hard to measure turnout for nonbinding contests, and turnout in Colorado was complicated by bad weather. But Tuesday offered nothing to dispel a sinking fear that this crop of candidates cannot generate widespread excitement among Republicans.
One polling place in Missouri had about 10 percent of the normal turnout for a primary in the early hours.
Turnout in 2008's binding Republican primary in Missouri was 588,720. Turnout last night was lower than 250,000. Binding or not, if Show-Me State Republicans felt passionate about their candidates, they would have turned out in greater numbers to give their man a little boost, even if only a symbolic one. (With more than 135,000 votes in Missouri last night, Santorum can argue he's coming closest to catching fire, at least at this moment.)
Republican turnout increased slightly in Iowa and New Hampshire over 2008, but much of that appears to have been driven by Ron Paul supporters who may or may not be inclined to support the Republican nominee in November. GOP turnout surged in South Carolina, but then slipped below 2008's level in Florida, and then plummeted in Nevada this weekend.
The Las Vegas Sun tallied up the depressing numbers: "More than 10,000 fewer Republican voters made it to Saturday morning's much-trumpeted caucuses than turned out for the underpublicized caucuses of 2008. To put it differently: about 8 percent of the party's active voter base participated this time, compared with about 11 percent four years ago."
"They totally embarrassed themselves," lamented a Republican strategist who worked on one of the statewide races in Nevada last cycle. "I'm surprised by how late candidates focused on it. There was no leadership from the top. Nevada Republicans were handed a gift with a primary this early and they still received almost no attention. . . . Plus there's a fight that is still to come. The Ron Paul folks smell fraud and conspiracy [in the results, which were not fully counted until Monday morning,] and are freaking out."
Okay, first things first. The fact that the Ron Paul folks are freaking out about something is not overly newsworthy. In fact, it makes me feel a little bit better about everything. All is normal and right in the world if some of these - and not all of them mind you - Ron Paul supporters are going nuts.
But looking at the actual story, I'm tempted to say, "Hmmm that's interesting." But that's about it. I mean, yeah, I would love to see conservatives sludging through rain, sleet, snow or hail to get to the ballot box and support one candidate for office. I would love to have this groundswell support for one person and send this unequivocal message to the current president, "your days in this office are numbered...here comes the (insert name here) train!" But I didn't expect that. And I'm not concerned that isn't the case.
Maybe I should be. But I'm not. I think the political environment being what it is right now, there's a focus on ideological purity that I like, that I support within the Republican Party. There is a determination of conservatives to take over the party and not let it be run by the liberals within the ranks anymore. And that conviction, coupled I think with a fear of how un-vetted our current president was, is causing conservatives to go over their options with a fine-toothed comb. Nothing wrong with that. But it does cause the weaknesses of your candidate to shine.
And so does it maybe depress some folks from turning out who say, "I really don't care which one of them wins the nomination - they're not my perfect candidate." But the larger question was, is and will remain: does that translate to those voters staying home in November.
Some probably will. But by and large, I have to be honest and say I just don't see it. I just don't see that many conservatives coming to the conclusion that with all the faults of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, they aren't still a much better option than destroying the country under Barack Obama. Passions are fierce in the primary, and people get their dander up easily. People may even be mad at the party itself for not producing any better slate than what they've got, but I think all that fades in the general election.
Suffice it to say with ObamaCare at the forefront, the war on Christianity declared by the President, our debt and deficit and shaky foreign policy situation, I don't think conservatives are going to struggle to be motivated to beat Obama in 2012. I just don't regardless of who is on their side of the ticket amongst these choices.