Romney seals the deal with GOP base

For months, Mitt Romney’s detractors have warned that he’s too moderate to win hardcore conservatives, too rich to connect with downscale voters, too cautious to rally Tea Party supporters and too Mormon to convert evangelicals. 

Tuesday’s primaries, however, show these demographic groups suddenly moving into Romney’s camp.

Maryland's primary was the first of the night to suggest that, however bitterly, Romney’s finally sealed that elusive deal with many in the Republican Party’s base.

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Romney routed Santorum among some of the former Pennsylvania senator’s strongest demographic backers, winning those who “strongly support” the Tea Party by 19 percent, those without a college degree by 21 percent, evangelicals by 6 percent and even rural voters, by 23 percent.

Indeed, if there’s been one group of voters Santorum has been able to rely on, it’s been that band of fervent activists — Tea Party backers, conservatives, evangelicals and downscale voters — but they all abandoned Santorum for Romney in Maryland.

Veteran GOP analyst Ed Rollins said on Fox News that the Maryland vote was a sign the party’s conservative elements were beginning to coalesce around the front-runner.

“What you’re starting to see is people who were reluctant to vote for Romney earlier on — the Tea Party voters, the conservatives, the Christian Coalition — are starting to come into his camp,” said Rollins.

Some will argue that Maryland was just a perfect demographic fit for Romney, with many centrist Republican voters. But while the primary electorate’s overall profile was, indeed, well-suited to him, that fact can’t wrest away his wins with previously elusive demographic groups.

Further proof of Romney’s inroads came in Wisconsin, a state hardly known for patrician, country-club Republicans and one that, just a few weeks ago, Santorum had hopes of winning.

Once again, Romney popped Santorum in his demographic core.

Those who “strongly supported” the Tea Party abandoned Santorum and backed Romney by 15 percent. Romney’s ability to rally those voters was a sharp improvement over his effort in Ohio, where Santorum won the group by 9 percent, or Michigan, where he took the demographic by 8 percent.

Downscale voters also gave Romney their support. He won both among those with a high school-level education or less as well as voters making under $50,000 per year. In earlier Midwestern contests in Michigan and Ohio, Santorum came out on top. As odd as it might sound, on Tuesday night, it was Romney and not Santorum who was the candidate of the “little guy.”

But if Santorum couldn’t count on the Midwestern working class anymore, couldn’t he certainly count on hardcore conservatives — that activist base that would sooner be buried alive than vote for the squishy Massachusetts moderate? Yet those identifying themselves as “very conservative” quietly backed Romney by 3 percent.

No revolt. No mantra of “anybody but Romney.” Instead, it was just Romney.

The only group that stayed true to Santorum was evangelicals, and even they seemed to be losing faith. Santorum won by just 2 percent. In Ohio, they backed him by 17 percent; in Michigan, by 16 percent.

Of course, the numbers don’t tell the story of the bitter fight that’s led these voters into Romney’s camp, nor do they tell of how long it’s taken them to line up behind Romney. This wasn’t a miraculous turnaround, but rather the result of a protracted battle for the Republican nomination.

Two weeks ago, results in Illinois suggested that harvest was near for Romney. Once again, he ate into Santorum’s base, but he didn’t entirely consume it until Tuesday night.

On Fox News, the Weekly Standard’s Steve Hayes noted, “If Mitt Romney is the nominee … it won’t have been the establishment who swung in to seal the deal for him, it will have been the Tea Party.”

So now Romney has the delegates, the demographics and a deadly argument for those who think he can’t rally the base against Barack Obama: namely, that if he can convince hardcore conservatives, Tea Partiers and evangelicals to support him over Rick Santorum, it’ll be a piece of cake to get them to back him over the president.

That’s not an easy prospect for Santorum to consider, but his campaign immediately suggested it will try working on finding an answer through June. On CNN, spokeswoman Alice Stewart urged the political world to “keep an eye on Texas” and its May 29 primary, which will allegedly prove “critical.”

But, according to the AP, after Tuesday night, Romney has a 646-272 advantage over Santorum in the race for delegates; even more dauntingly, Santorum would need to win 79 percent of the remaining delegates to win the nomination. Not even Texas can deliver him that.

It’s often said that April showers bring May flowers. For Romney, spring came a little early.