- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Former Gov. Mitt Romney won The Washington Times/CPAC 2012 Presidential Straw Poll Saturday, with 38 percent of 3,408 voters saying he’s their first choice to be the Republican nominee. Former Sen. Rick Santorum wasn’t far behind at 31 percent. That’s a close call, but a win is a win. Taking home the crown from the Conservative Political Action Conference shows Mr. Romney is making inroads with the skeptical conservative base of the Republican Party.

This GOP race is far from over, however. A simultaneous national survey of 600 self-identified conservatives reflected an even closer spread, with Mr. Santorum within two percentage points of Mr. Romney’s victorious 27 percent take. Mr. Santorum’s wins in Missouri’s primary and the caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado indicate he is picking up steam, while the most recent polls show him in statistical ties with Mr. Romney. A New York Times/CBS survey released Tuesday morning had the Pennsylvania politician ahead by 3 percent, although within the margin of error.

Competition is healthy, but this protracted inability to stick with a front-runner makes elephants look unfocused and disorganized. Mr. Santorum is the latest flavor of the week in a GOP contest that resembles a game of musical chairs more than a serious effort to choose a challenger to President Obama. Santorum fans think he finally is getting the attention he needs to become the “anyone-but-Romney” standard-bearer for the Tea Party now that Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and businessman Herman Cain have dropped out, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich is struggling to retain supporters.

It’s an open question whether Mr. Santorum can succeed in securing and maintaining a lead where numerous preceding front-runners have failed. The next few weeks are important for both candidates, but the climb is steeper for the Pennsylvanian, who has less cash on hand. Mr. Romney maintains the lead in pledged delegates with 123 to Mr. Santorum’s 72. The upcoming Arizona and Michigan primaries on Feb. 28 will assign a total of 59 delegates. Mr. Santorum needs to win both states to secure a seven-delegate lead on Mr. Romney. No matter how those contests turn out, a mother lode of 437 delegates will be awarded a week later in 10 primaries on Super Tuesday, when a broad organization will be key.


The Washington Times/CPAC straw poll and national survey held more good news for Mr. Romney. A majority of those voting (59 percent in the straw poll and 56 percent in the national survey) said a candidate’s positions on the issues mattered more than his chances of defeating Mr. Obama. Up to this point, the most common complaint about Mr. Romney from the conservative base has been that he is unconvincing when speaking about his positions on fundamental issues such as abortion and repealing Obamacare. He’s not out of the woods yet, but winning over important CPAC issues voters shows Mr. Romney is making progress in overcoming that image problem.

The Washington Times