With Mitt Romney now holding a 14-15 point lead over Rick Santorum in Illinois — according to two most recent telephone surveys of Illinois primary voters – it is all but certain that the former Massachusetts governor will at the very least hold his own, if not increase his lead over Santorum in tomorrow’s Illinois primary.
Following his win in Puerto Rico this weekend, Mr. Romney heads into Illinois (where 69 delegates are at stake) holding 55% of the delegates pledged thus far and leading Santorum in the delegate race by more than 2-1 (521-253).
But while the Republican presidential primary may be Romney’s to win, that has more to do with arithmetic and delegates than it does with voters.
Consider that many of the delegates Romney has picked up since March 10 are from the Mariana Islands, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Puerto Rico — jurisdictions whose impact on the fall election are negligible.
Further, the most recent Fox News poll, out last week, shows Romney’s negative rating close to 50, and his positive rating below 40. Put simply, there has been no real momentum shift for Romney in terms of the voters.
Romney is doing far better with the mechanics of delegate counting than he is actually collecting votes from Republican primary voters who will presumably be eligible to vote in the fall general election.
And with his share of the total popular vote cast well below 45%, it is clear that Romney will continue to face difficulties in the general election campaign as he seeks to rally support beyond his core constituency of suburban and urban, mostly upscale Republicans – should he ultimately win the nomination.
Going forward, it can be expected that the White House will only escalate their attacks on all the primary contenders on the Republican Party – which now garners a 10% lower rating than the Democratic Party in recent polling.
Given the increasingly negative rating for both Romney and the party, one can understand why conventional wisdom would suggest that a long, drawn-out process will be fatal for whomever the ultimate nominee should be.
Numerous GOP leaders have spoken at length about why they hope to resolve their nomination well before their convention opens in Tampa on August 27 to avoid further division and disarray.
There is, however, one other possibility.
And that possibility is that a new candidate can enter the race.