The South delivered the Mitt Romney campaign two more defeats last night in Alabama and Mississippi where he placed third in the Republican primaries in both states. Third!
Meanwhile, Rick Santorum grabbed the first place mantle in both states, fueling what his campaign sees as a mandate to continue forward. Newt Gingrich, the only Southern candidate among the three, scratched out a second place finish in the neighboring Gulf Coast states.
Romney did win the Hawaii and American Samoa contests Tuesday, and as his campaign continues to point out, he has secured about twice the delegates as Santorum and thus a more likely path to the Republican nomination.
Pundits continue to talk about electability. Early exit polls yesterday showed that "electability" - the ability to defeat President Obama in November - was the top candidate quality for voters in Mississippi and Alabama - one of Romney's main talking points. Religion and the economy also played a role, though. White evangelical Christians made up 8 in 10 votes in Mississippi and Alabama, and the economy was listed as a top concern among voters in these states, two of the country's poorest.
Yet, Romney who is supposedly running on a platform of, "I can fix the economy," can't break through. It's not surprising that he lost to the Evangelicals, but Santorum also won more of the vote of those making more than $100,000 a year in Mississippi. Romney appears to have hung on to the liberal and moderate Republican vote in these Southern states, which could be indicative of success to come from Independents in a general election - an important factor, as Virgil Dickson pointed out in last week's news analysis.
But I keep coming back to the fact that this is a candidate that can't seem to inspire anyone, and Americans like to be inspired. We don't like to settle - Republican, Democrat, Independent, whatever.
There have been lots of comparisons of this volatile primary season to the dragged out Democrat contest between Hillary Clinton and now President Obama, which lasted until early June 2008.
Clinton's team often painted her as the inevitable nominee, the experienced practitioner, the 'adult,' if you will, in the race. Voters had other ideas.
Clinton, I would argue, was a much more inspiring candidate to Democrats than Romney is to Republicans. The possibility of the first woman president was alluring to many, but not enough for those who wanted to break free of what they saw as the Washington establishment.
Romney needs to find a way to give voters something to be excited about, hopeful about, if he wants to secure the presidency in the fall. He may get the nomination based on "electability," but to succeed his campaign needs to pivot now toward new messaging that will inspire, rather than waiting until the convention.