Washington Notebook: The Republican Ragged Race to Tampa

26/03/2012 12:31 BST | Updated 26/05/2012 10:12 BST

The Republican four man presidential nomination 'food fight' has come to an end with Rick Santorum's latest impressive wins.

'Rocky' Santorum has managed to muscle this Republican primary bout into a two man slugfest.

Newt Gingrich's failed 'Southern Strategy' - where he did not capture Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi or Louisiana could be giving his Vegas Sugar Daddy Sheldon Adelson buyer's remorse - forcing him to turn off the cash machine leaving Newt high and dry.

Adelson and his family may have their own campaign strategy forcing Newt to fend for himself - while shifting their financial support to Mitt Romney - the now reigning contender.

Despite his surprising wins in Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Kansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana - most of these states are likely to be in the Republican column no matters who wins the GOP nomination battle - Santorum has failed to score decisive wins in the general election battleground states such as Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Arizona, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Michigan and Virginia.

And if this trend continues he may lose in his home state, Pennsylvania where he was trounced in a 2006 Senate re-election bid by 17 percentage points.

Romney has indeed been battered on the long, grueling march to Tampa but unlike Santorum he has been picking up scores of delegates along the way in these essential battleground states.

This is the kind of momentum and support needed to win the general election.

And Mitt's well-oiled campaign will find this crucial as they come to face off against the awesome power of the Obama Campaign's massive organisational, outreach and fundraising capacity.

No matter who wins the GOP nomination it is likely to be a close race in November.

The key to winning the Presidency will be winning the battle for independent votes in these key battleground states.

Independent voters are typically fiscally conservative and socially progressive.

They also make up between 25-30% of the ever-changing electorate who do in fact decide presidential elections.

Santorum may have won the battle over Gingrich, Perry, Cain and Bachmann as the far right wing culture candidate but in doing so he has pushed the Republican message so far to the right that if the Republicans lose in November Ricky is likely to shoulder the blame even if he is not the nominee.

Although the Republican talking heads keep repeating the mantra that this contentious GOP battle has been good for the party, the polls and the numbers seem to be proving them dead wrong.

The Republican Party's favorability ratings are declining and their voter turnout and enthusiasm for this contest is plummeting.

GOP party leaders keep harking back to the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

The big difference between that contest and this one is that at this point in 2008 the Democrats had two strong candidates with basically similar views who were enthusiastically vying for the hearts and minds of a fairly united party.

(See my Washington Notebook blog - "The Grand Old Party's Growing Pains")

After all this GOP cannibalisation and self-emulation can anyone imagine a president Romney nominating campaign nemesis Rick Santorum for his Secretary of State?

In this race the attacks and insults are much more personal and it seems very unlikely that the remaining candidates will be willing to put aside their bruised egos to wholeheartedly back the ultimate nominee.

Consistent patterns are developing for both Romney and Santorum. Romney is winning the wealthier and more educated voter.

Santorum is appealing to the lower income, blue collar worker without a college education as well as the evangelicals. And neither one seems able to cross-over.

An obvious solution would be for the pair to team up as other rivals have done in the past since between them they appeal to the entire GOP base.

But at present this seems unlikely and a Romney-Santorum ticket offers little that could to appeal to or excite those important independent voters in the middle.

No matter who wins this GOP contest the battle over the party's platform and frankly its identity in Tampa could all but eradicate the shared values of the old time establishment Republicans like the Bushes, Rockefellers and Reagans.

In an attempt to extinguish the flames and cut through the vitriol former Florida Governor and Bush '43' brother Jeb along with '41' and First Mom Barbara Bush all endorsed Mitt Romney.

This battle has also damaged their leading candidate, Mitt Romney whose negative numbers are now higher than his positive ones.

Mitt has had to move so far to the right that he seems clearly uncomfortable in his own skin.

Those who have followed his political career for years barely recognize the candidate they see today.

One can only imagine Team Obama watching closely with anticipation to see just how Mitt paddles his way back to safer currents in the middle of this electoral stream.

This blog can also be read on Sky News