As Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney basked in Tuesday night’s huge primary win in Illinois, the three challengers left in the race — former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul — showed no signs of quitting despite being unable to significantly cut into Romney’s lead.
The picture that is emerging in the 2012 Republican Primary is one of a front-runner unable to decisively convince a majority of party voters that his conservatism is real, and three men with big, bold ideas and big egos executing a cherry-picking delegate strategy in targeted states that could end with no clear winner and a historic convention showdown.
On Wed., as the candidates looked toward Louisiana, Romney was further handicapped by an unlikely source when Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior campaign adviser, remarked during a CNN appearance that moderates need not worry about Romney’s tilt to the right during the primary race.
“Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign,” Fehrnstrom told political comedian John Fugelsang on CNN. “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”
Romney quickly sought to dispel that image an assured voters he would run a “conservative campaign” against President Obama in the fall. His rivals, meanwhile, tried to capitalize on the moment.
“They think they have this nomination in the bag, so it’s time to reset. It’s time to start moving to the middle,” Santorum said while campaigning in Louisiana with a newly-purchased Etch A Sketch in hand from Toys R Us.
“You have an opportunity here in Louisiana to make a very clear statement: You’re not looking for someone who is the Etch-A-Sketch candidate. You are looking for someone who writes what they believe in in stone and stays true to what they say.”
Similarly, Gingrich took to the radio airwaves today and argued that voters do not trust Romney as a true conservative and said it is most unlikely that he will capture the necessary 1,144 delegates to be named the nominee at the Republican convention.
Instead, Gingrich predicts an “historic” year where all eyes will be focused on the Republicans and it will be this strategy that will prevent President Obama from attacking a known nominee and ultimately help defeat him.
Paul, who has performed dismally of late and is described as “the shakiest candidate in the race” by one news source, has said numerous times that while he wants to win the nomination he doesn’t believe that it will happen.
For Paul, it seems more about advancing his libertarian ideas and creating an enthusiastic base of young supporters who can give him some leverage and a voice at the Republican convention, or even in a Romney Administration.
As election results rolled in from Illinois and Romney was declared the winner less than 45 minutes after the polls closed, Big 3 News Skype callers expressed hope for a brokered convention.
“I don’t see the party as a whole rallying around Romney as a candidate,” said Jennie from Idaho in an hour-long conference call hosted by Big 3 News. “Honestly I see more of a radical candidate, possibly Sarah Palin and Ron Paul, I could see the party ‘coming home’ to more of a radical candidate than I could to a typical, big-money Republican.”
In Kentucky, the mood for a brokered convention was palpable.
“A brokered convention would be good because it would keep the Obama machine idle,” Brian said. “It would have no one to attack.”
“I’m a Santorum guy,” said Ethan, a political blogger from Texas. “At this point, Gingrich and Paul just need to drop out but they’re actually splitting up things. Maybe we can go to a brokered convention.”
Ethan said many Paul supporters he speaks with want a brokered Republican convention so the Congressman can capture all the delegates.
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