Mitt Romney wants to be inevitable. Mitt Romney’s supporters are pushing the inevitability meme right now in hopes that Wisconsin voters agree because the dangers of a Wisconsin loss are critical.
While the two most recent polls have shown Romney with a lead, these two surveys seem to not reflect the rural nature of Wisconsin Republican Politics who made up 41% of the Republcian electorate in 2008 (compare to a 23% rural vote in Ohio this year) and rural voters have been far more likely to support Senator Santorum.
If Santorum wins Wisconsin, Romney faces a far more difficult road ahead the rest of the primary schedule. The odds of Santorum losing Pennsylvania on April 24th will go down dramatically allowing Santorum to play more aggressively in other contests. Santorum could challenge Romney in Delaware, which borders Pennsylvania. In addition, Santorum is more likely to aggressively compete in Western New York State to both win Congressional Districts and hold Romney under 50% of the vote so that the Empire State divides its 34 at-large delegates proportionally.
Romney should easily carry Connecticut and Rhode Island, likely taking all of Connecticut’s delegates and earning ten or eleven of Rhode Island’s sixteen convention delegate.
However when Romney turns the calendar for the month of May, he’ll run into a slew of states that are custom made for Rick Santorum: Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Texas. The only state likely to vote for Romney under this scenario is Oregon, which holds a vote by mail proportional primary that concludes on May 15th.
Heading to June 5th where five states including California and New Jersey vote, Romney would be reeling.
On the other hand, should Santorum lose Wisconsin, the complexion of the race would likely change. Santorum would be forced to spend much of the rest of the month of April playing defense in Pennsylvania and allow Romney to make bigger gains everywhere. Romney will, of course, hope to defeat Santorum in his home state and effectively end the race. If that fails and Romney wins every contest in the month of April, the inevitability narrative will gain steam and some states that would have been sure bets to vote for Santorum otherwise may vote for Romney just as the State of Texas voted for John McCain over Mike Huckabee in 2008. Of course, it’s still possible that many of these May states could still go for Santorum just as the trio of Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri surprised voters after Romney’s victories in Florida and Nevada made him “inevitable.” However, it’s far less likely with a Santorum loss in Wisconsin, particularly if it’s followed up by a poor performance on April 24th outside of Pennsylvania.
Much conversation has centered around on what Wisconsin means for Santorum. However, for Romney, Wisconsin is even bigger. It will answer the question of whether his White House bid is inevitable or in trouble.