Washington, April 11: For the second time in 149 years, America’s right wing forces surrendered at the same spot not only reinforcing the truism that history repeats itself but also expanding on that adage that history repeats itself at exactly the same place.
Rick Santorum, the standard bearer of conservatives in this year’s US presidential election, yesterday surrendered in Gettysburg to moderation and money in his Republican party, his surrender eerily reminiscent of Confederate General Robert Lee’s rout in the same town by the Union army of then President Abraham Lincoln and led by General George Meade.
Santorum’s withdrawal from the Republican primaries in the face of a potentially humiliating defeat in his home state of Pennsylvania in two weeks effectively clears the way for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to be anointed as Barack Obama’s opponent in the November election to the White House.
Whether yesterday’s developments will ultimately lead to a second “Gettysburg Address” — this one by Obama who is a superior orator to Lincoln, known for the original speech in Gettysburg — will depend on how Romney manages the contradictions in his party and the unknowns in electoral battles that can upset best made plans.
In the latest ABC News-Washington Post opinion poll conducted just before Santorum ended his presidential quest, Obama is ahead of Romney by seven points overall if an election was to take place today.
Another wide-ranging poll in the same period by the Investor’s Business Daily, the Christian Science Monitor and TIPP Online shows Obama even further ahead of Romney by an impressive 12 points.
Women, alienated from Romney by his compulsion to court the Republican right wing on birth control, have flocked to Obama by 48 to 35 per cent in this poll. Voters over 65 years of age, angered by the Republican temptation to cut government health programmes for the old and the poor, have expressed a clear six-point preference for Obama over Romney in this sample.
Geographically, Obama is ahead of Romney in all parts of the US except in the conservative strongholds in the South. Even in that “Bible belt” Romney’s eight-point lead over the President is not insurmountable for the Democrats. The problem for the Republicans, though, is that their presumptive nominee is now running 24 points behind Obama in the liberal northeast, 22 points behind the President in the centrist midwest and seven points behind the Democrat in the west which is a mix of very liberal and right-of-centre vote banks.
Given the complex nature of the electoral college that chooses a President, this could mean a landslide for Obama unless Romney can dramatically alter the poll scenario and set the agenda on his terms.
The exit of Santorum, a former Senator from Pennsylvania has not left the field entirely open for Romney. He continues to have two token rivals, former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and a Texas Congressman, Ron Paul.
Arch conservative Gingrich’s determination to carry on the primary fight until the Republican nominating convention two months before the presidential poll will leave Romney with little time to move to the centre and woo independents or right-leaning Democrats because he will have to defend himself against Gingrich’s charge of being a closet liberal throughout the rest of the primary season.
In conceding defeat yesterday, Santorum warned that “we are not done fighting” for the ideas he espoused during his campaign: which means he will force Romney during the rest of the election season to stay on the right, which will be a boon for Obama as he himself moves to the centre.