With Newt Gone, How Far Will Romney Pivot?

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After coming away victorious after his first elections without significant competition, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney didn't take long to make the inevitable pivot we all knew was coming. Reeling in no less than 58% of the vote in all five of Tuesday's primaries, "Mittens" wasted no time in appealing to swing voters. He nixed any talk of conservatives from an end-of-evening speech that sounded more like a nomination acceptance than a celebration of a couple primary victories.

Since Romney’s closest rival, Rick Santorum, suspended his campaign earlier this month, the country has assumed Mitt would take the GOP nomination, many thought the continued campaigning of his two other rivals -- Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, who have held a distant third and fourth place since early on -- made no real difference. But it became clear last night that at least one of those rivals may have been the only thing anchoring Romney to the right.

Newt Gingrich/Mitt Romney
Images: Images: © Tim Isbell/Biloxi Sun Herald/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com, © Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com

Newt Gingrich spent far more than his last campaign dollar appealing to voters in the Northeast, and inside sources reported that a loss there might spur him to drop out of the race. That news was seemingly all Romney needed to begin his re-focus on the general election, lending credence to Newt’s charges that his presence in the race had been singlehandedly responsible for the attention Romney has paid the conservative base thus far. And, in that case, Newt may have had a valid point -- for a change.

The sweeping victories certainly gave Romney the confidence to turn his attention to November, but he began his appeal to swing voters long before the wins began to tally up. During campaign stops with Marco Rubio -- a junior Senator from Florida who has been hailed as a possible VP pick -- Romney had already begun to show his more moderate leanings, saying he’d be “studying” Rubio’s alternative DREAM Act. It’s an act that falls short of the full DREAM Act’s scope on immigration, but is far more generous to illegal immigrants than many staunchly conservative voters would like to see. It doesn’t create new categories of citizenship the way the original DREAM Act would, but does offer some legal routes to citizenship to immigrants -- for example, to people who came here with their families as youths and have become productive members of American society by completing some college or joining the military.

Gingrich first countered dropout rumors Tuesday night, telling supporters he wouldn’t be suspending his campaign immediately, but campaign sources today say thathe's likely to make an announcement no later than next Tuesday, which begs the question: if Mitt’s pivoting toward the center already, what can we expect when Newt’s really out of the picture?

Romney's appeal to swing voters isn’t unexpected. Though his track record is decidedly moderate, his conservative base is more likely to not vote at all than to vote against him, regardless of the content of his speeches going forward. If conservative voters failed to turn out altogether, it could spell disaster in November, but even that’s not a real risk for the former governor -- and I have to believe he knows it. Republican voters are known for their consistent voting records; getting them to the polls has never been a struggle, and 2012 isn’t likely to change that. The conservative base will turn out to vote, and they’ll vote Republican. Of that, Romney can be sure; which is why he probably won’t worry about pandering to them now that he’s got the nomination all but in the bag.

What remains to be seen is how much he’ll fulfill his former campaign aide’s Etch-a-Sketch predictions, and to what extent that will turn off those very swing voters he hopes to woo.

Diana Prichard is a red-leaning freelance writer living and working a blue state. She authors Cultivating the Art of Sustenance. Follow her on Twitter: @diana_prichard.

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