Santorum Likely To Win Lousiana, But It Won’t Matter

The results of Louisiana's primary mean a lot less than the pundits will tell you they do.

If the polls are any indication, Rick Santorum looks likely to follow up his victories in Mississipi and Alabama with a fairly strong win in Louisiana today, but it’s unlikely to do anything to help him overcome the widening lead that Mitt Romney has in the delegate count:

METAIRIE, La. — Republicans went to the polls Saturday in Louisiana to vote in a primary poised to give a boost to Rick Santorum, but also add to Mitt Romney’s growing, if not insurmountable delegate lead in the race for the GOP nomination.

Santorum tops polls in the state by double digits, and a win Saturday would extend his recent victories across Gulf Coast states. Louisiana’s sizable evangelical population appears to favor the former Pennsylvania senator and his social conservative appeal.

Polls opened across Louisiana at 7 a.m. EDT and will remain open until 9 p.m. EDT. Just 20 of the state’s delegates are at stake and will be allocated proportionally among candidates earning more than 25 percent of the vote. If no candidate earns above 25 percent, the delegates will remain uncommitted. An additional 23 delegates will be selected at the state Republican convention in June.

All four remaining GOP presidential contenders campaigned in the Pelican State this week ahead of the contest, but were not planning appearances in the state Saturday. Santorum spoke in Pennsylvania on Saturday morning before flying to campaign events in Wisconsin. Romney is scheduled to spend the weekend off the campaign trail at his home in La Jolla, Calif. Newt Gingrich planned to campaign in Pennsylvania ahead of that state’s primary in late April. Ron Paul has no scheduled campaign events.

Louisiana voters said they were concerned about the economy, but also social issues — a focus that favors Santorum, who appeared at evangelical churches, a gun range and an energy company in the previous days, emphasizing his stance on abortion and speaking from a podium emblazoned with a sign that said “Freedom.” He also seized on the Romney campaign’s Etch a Sketch gaffe, toting the children’s toy with him and casting himself as the last, best chance for conservatives.

Santorum “has family values, he believes in the Constitution and I like his stance on abortion, and he is strong on freedom of religion,” said Linda Gibson, 66, a retired nurse and Catholic from Shreveport. “I used to be for Ron Paul, but I changed to Santorum recently.”

Gibson said that for her, the turning point was hearing Santorum talk about fighting “partial birth” abortion while he was in the Senate.

“It made me think, Catholics don’t believe in abortion and that he is standing firm,” said Gibson, acknowledging that she didn’t know that Santorum is Catholic until recently.

Ahead of the vote, the Gingrich campaign seized on the former House speaker’s win in a straw poll held by the Baton Rouge tea party. Gingrich won with 53 percent of the vote; Romney won just 1 percent from the roughly 400 people who voted.

Romney appeared to acknowledge Friday his less-than-successful strategy in the South: “You got a lot of delegates here,” he told supporters. “I want, well, I’d like all of them. I’m probably not going to get all of them, but I’d like to get as many as I can.”

Even if Romney wins just a handful of delegates Saturday, it will put him closer to the GOP nomination and further complicate the strategies of his opponents, who face a difficult stretch of contests next month. The District of Columbia, Maryland and Wisconsin hold primaries April 3. Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island vote April 24.

Most Republican analysts seem to agree:

Rick Santorum is likely to win Louisiana’s Saturday primary but a victory there won’t help him much, say Republican strategists.

“Winning Louisiana does nothing in the grand scheme of things,” said GOP strategist Tyler Harber. “It won’t give a huge boost of support to Rick Santorum. Winning these contests isn’t as important. It’s now about winning the delegates.”

(…)

The front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, Mitt Romney, has set expectations low in Louisiana, campaigning there for just one day.

Romney’ campaign has also spent almost no money on the state, and the pro-Romney super-PAC that has deluged Santorum in other states put just $151,000 into Louisiana in the last ten days.

While a Santorum win in the state is unlikely to help his campaign in the long term, a Romney loss could lead to renewed questions about his struggles to appeal to the GOP base, especially Evangelical Christians, Tea Party supporters and southerners.

“A win in Louisiana for Santorum will probably not change the dynamic of the race but it will stall some of the momentum Romney has built the last week,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. “Romney has a way of taking two steps forward and one step back…this will renew questions about him not being able to win in the South and put Santorum away. If Santorum keeps winning states it’s hard to make the case he needs to get out.”

I suppose this is a fair point. On some level, Santorum is in the same position that Hillary Clinton was in during the closing months of the 2008 Democratic Primary.  Then as now, the delegate math was fairly clearly pointing toward the fact that the candidate was going to lose the delegate race. In Hillary’s case, of course, the race was much closer and there was at least the tangential possibility that Clinton could somehow pull away Democratic Superdelegates, or get the DNC to revoke the penalties it had imposed on states like Florida and Michigan.

Santorum has no such hope. As I said on Wednesday, he would need to capture 75% of the remaining delegates in order to even come close to catching up with Romney. Tonight, unless he does exceedingly better than even the most optimistic of the polls we’ve seen , he probably won’t even walk away with 75% of the delegates from Louisiana. After that, things just get more difficult. Current polling has him trailing Romney in Wisconsin, which votes on April 3rd, and he’s unlikely to do well at all in Maryland, which also votes on that day. (Santorum won’t even be on the ballot for the April 4rd D.C. primary). Beyond that the only state where Santorum appears situated at the moment to achieve a strong win that could actually add to his delegate count is his home state of Pennsylvania, and that’s not going to be enough to close the gap between him and Romney.

So tonight you’re likely to hear a bunch of pundits talk about Santorum’s resurgence. Don’t believe them. You’re also going to hear them talk about how Romney “can’t perform” in the South, something that Santorum’s campaign is likely to repeat. That criticism strikes me as misplaced, though. There isn’t any real question that Mitt Romney will win states like South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi in November. Even in 2008, Barack Obama wasn’t able to come close to John McCain in any of those states and there no reason to believe he’d be able to do so this time around. The fact that he is losing to more conservative candidates in primary races in those states tells us nothing about what will happen in a General Election, because nobody seriously believes that those conservatives will do anything other than take the opportunity to defeat Barack Obama in November regardless of who the Presidential nominee happens to be. The logic of the Romney campaign has always been about the ability to appeal to moderates and independents. It may work, it may not work but it’s a smart strategy given the current political climate and it’s certainly smarter than nominating an extremist like Santorum who is only going to alienate the very voters the GOP needs to attract in 2012.

So, my advice? Sit outside tonight and enjoy the weather if you can. Watch a basketball game or a movie. Heck, rearrange your sock drawer. All of those activities will be far more worthwhile than another night of breathless punditry over election results and exit polls that don’t really mean much of anything. Rick Santorum is going to win the Louisiana Primary. Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee. All the rest is nonsense.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. legion says:

    Well, it does matter if it gets Santorum to the minimum number of primary victories needed to even _be_ on the ballot at the convention… has he hit that goal yet? Gingrich and Paul almost certainly won’t, which will prevent either of them from having the influence they’d like in the kingmaking department…

  2. legion,

    Santorum has won in Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. Along with the non-binding primary in Missouri. It seems pretty clear he and Romney will both clear the threshhold. They will be the only ones.

  3. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Well, the pundits of course are airheaded and they’re suffering from craven needs and desires for higher ratings. You realize, don’t you, that more people watch “Survivor” than Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, combined?

    That all said, I’m not too sure even the loopy media will spend too much further time and resources pimping Santorum and flogging the “GOP divided” and the contested convention memes. After last week’s primary in Illinois even some of most partisan, left-wing media outlets — CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, AP, Reuters — began speaking in terms of Romney being the nominee and looking ahead to the fall general election between Obama and Romney.

    Concerning Louisiana Republicans, of course they’re going to vote for Santorum. In 2008 they voted for Huckabee over McCain, at a time when McCain even was more irrefutably going to be the nominee than Romney is today.

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  5. Tillman says:

    The fact that he is losing to more conservative candidates in primary races in those states tells us nothing about what will happen in a General Election, because nobody seriously believes that those conservatives will do anything other than take the opportunity to defeat Barack Obama in November regardless of who the Presidential nominee happens to be.

    So you think on Election Day the majority of people voting GOP will go out because it’s Demon Lord Hussein Obama? I happen to think they’d need a better candidate than Mitt Romney to care enough. There’s a sizable percentage of that “always votes GOP” slice of the electorate that’s not as hardcore as the rest of them, and that percentage can decide to do other crap on Election Day.

  6. CarolDuhart says:

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  7. Fluffernutter says:

    I echo Tillman’s sentiment. I think it’s unlikely that we’re going to see a huge GOP turnout just so they can stick it to Obama. The armchair warriors already do that from the comfort of their la-z-boys. Getting up to vote would mean finding substantial reason to get up and drive to the polling place, a hard proposition to make when it comes down to Mittens vs TV.

    There is a significant chunk of the Republican base that just isn’t that excited about the inevitable nomination of Mitt. When and if he eventually loses, the values voters and teabags will blame him for not being the one true conservative savior to rule them all.

    And in any case, an Obama reelection plays right into the hardcore base’s persecution complex. New conspiracy theories will start crawling out of the woodwork, the talking heads will bow their heads and plead with the Lord, Glenn Beck will write something on a chalkboard, and everything will go back to exactly the way it was before.