CPAC poses a problem for Mitt Romney

This weekend in Washington D.C. the Conservative Political Action Conference will be meeting to rally the Republican base around important issues, give nomination candidates a chance to speak and give voice and form to the conservative agenda for the fall election.

The CPAC convention during an election year is actually pretty important to Republicans and the last one in 2008 was rife with political theatre. Mitt Romney used his CPAC speech on Thursday, February 7th 2008 to actually drop out of the Republican nomination race and endorse McCain. Romney’s quote that got the biggest applause is almost bursting with irony in retrospect:

I disagree with John McCain on many things but we agree on the need to do everything we have to to win in Iraq … and to find and execute Osama bin Laden.

Right solutions, but unfortunately for Mitt the other party (and a brother) managed to accomplish all of the above. More importantly, after dropping out of the race, Romney still won the CPAC straw poll pulling out a close 35% to 34% victory over McCain because ironically at the time Romney was considered the ‘true’ conservative in the race.

Oh, how things have changed in four short years.

Rick Santorum will go into this weekend’s conference not only as a ‘true’ conservative, but also after pulling out upset victories in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota despite being outspent and out organized on the ground by Mitt Romney. If Santorum can wow the crowd and heavy hitting donors this weekend with big speeches and a vision for the future he can essentially control the narrative of the race until the next debate on February 22nd – putting him in a prime position to challenge Romney in Michigan and Arizona primaries on February 28th.

CPAC this weekend is essentially another primary for Mitt Romney and one that he can’t afford to lose.

Bringing Up the Rear

Newt Gingrich is in a very interesting position after losses in all three primary contests tonight (although in Missouri he wasn’t officially on the ballot). His rollercoaster ride from front runner in December to whipping boy by Romney Super PAC assassins in January to victory in South Carolina make it impossible to count him out of the campaign as a spoiler or a difference maker.

At the same time it is hard to imagine him regaining past momentum. If the underlying argument in the Republican electorate has been which of the true conservatives, Newt or Rick, should drop out to mount a successful challenge to Mitt Romney it looks like they made their choice on Tuesday. For reasons only known to Colorado and Minnesota caucus goers Rick Santorum seems like the best choice to face down Mitt and take down Obama.

Newt is no longer in this battle, and sadly the candidate is usually the last to know. As for Ron Paul, his campaign is increasingly irrelevant but not harmful to any other candidate. The Texas congressman has not managed to win one state in 8 contests that have spanned all over the country.  He’s also 4th in the delegate count. He will not drop out, but even if he did, it is unlikely that his voters would rally behind any of the remaining candidates in large enough numbers to tip the race. In the end, he’s a sideshow and an increasingly boring one.

I declared this Republican race over just last week when Romney whalloped everyone in Florida, and … yeah … I spoke too soon. Between that and my prediction of a Patriots win over the Giants I’m not having a good week. BUT – I can guarantee this: Barack Obama watched last night as his likely challenger failed to win two states he won just 4 years ago, and saw that Republican turnout in all primary states was almost half what it was in 2008.

He’s got to feel pretty good about his chances.

This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.

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