With Rick Santorum's departure from the Republican primaries, Mitt Romney is the main challenger to U.S. President Barack Obama. Now it's Romney's turn to play his trump card.
It is hard to imagine any situation by the end of August other than Mitt Romney becoming the Republican nominee for the U.S. presidency. For weeks, the former governor of Massachusetts has gained delegates' votes in the primaries, along with the support of Republican Party leaders. Rivals Rick Santorum, the former Senator of Pennsylvania, Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Ron Paul, the Texas Congressman, have lagged far behind.
More than any other, the arch-conservative Santorum dealt Romney one setback after another during the campaign. Santorum forced the moderate Romney to adopt increasingly conservative views in order to compete for Santorum's supporters. The campaign took on an especially negative tone and was full of personal attacks. None of this worked to Romney's advantage as he tried to win over centrist voters but lost plenty of sympathy points.
In a direct comparison between Romney and U.S. President Barack Obama, Obama currently comes ahead in almost every respect. A majority of respondents to the latest opinion poll by the Washington Post and ABC News said Obama comes off as more likable and arouses more enthusiasm. The majority also said Obama is more consistent on his views, cares more about women's rights, is a safer bet in the international arena, supports the middle class and understands the financial problems of average people.
Yet in one important area, Romney, a former venture capital manager, leads Obama. 47 percent of respondents think Romney can do a better job of handling the economy, while 43 percent think the incumbent can. Romney also has a slight lead on Obama in energy issues. Further, 46 percent think Romney would be better at creating jobs, while 43 percent of poll respondents said Obama would.
Santorum withdrew in the face of impending defeat in his home state of Pennsylvania, along with the persistent illness of his daughter Bella. The withdrawal of his main rival allows Romney to focus on his strengths and veer away from Santorum's conservative emphasis on abortion and contraception.
Obama's team reacts
Santorum's withdrawal from the race could not come soon enough for Romney. The fact that Gingrich and Paul intend to stay in the race will not hurt the leading Republican candidate. Paul is not a seriously competitive candidate. He is not staying in the race so much out of hopes for the presidency as to advocate his libertarian point of view. Gingrich, meanwhile, does want the highest U.S. office. Presenting himself as the "true conservative," he called on Santorum's supporters to vote for him. However, Gingrich is so far behind Romney both in terms of primary votes and support from the Republican Party establishment that a comeback at this stage is impossible.
A press release by the Obama campaign has already recognized Romney as the final challenger. The campaign wasted no time going on the attack, saying in the release, "It is no surprise that Mitt Romney was buried under an avalanche of negative advertisements."
The release goes on to say that Americans prefer a president who works every day for the rebuilding of an economy in which hard work and taking responsibility pay off, and where the same rules apply for everyone.
Meanwhile, American Crossroads, the biggest of the conservative super PACs with campaign budgets in the millions of dollars, has already announced it will start attacking Obama this month.
The race for the U.S. presidency has begun, and the focus will clearly be on the economy. Romney, the former capital manager, is not the worst choice.
Author: Christina Bergmann, Washington, D.C. / srs
Editor: Spencer Kimball