Politico’s Arena asked:
Mitt Romney has won the Illinois primary by a considerable margin, the Associated Press projects. Does this win make the path to the Republican nomination any clearer? And does it provide a more obvious signal for either Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich to exit the race?
The delegate math has long been in Romney’s favor and the Illinois victory shrinks the possibilities for the other candidates from very difficult to nearly impossible.
Santorum has an interesting challenge. He has proved an able campaigner, if a polarizing figure. The Republican party traditionally nominates the runner-up from the previous contest (the next guy in line). Does Santorum seek to to set himself up for 2016 (Gingrich will be 73 then, making a serious run unlikely)? If so, Santorum needs to show his strengths as a campaigner, but not to hang on so long that he damages GOP prospects in the fall.
A few follow-up points – Santorum is only in his mid-fifties. He can wait till 2016, playing the game Romney played by lining up party elders and building his credentials where he is weak and burnishing his image. His problem is if Romney wins, then he must wait at least eight years (maybe longer if Romney chooses an able vice president and natural successor.) While anything is possible – as Santorum’s performance in the Republican primaries and emergence as a major candidate demonstrates – it is tough to see how ex-Senator Santorum can remain in the public eye for almost a decade.
This raises another interesting question that is close to my heart – could Santorum be the VP? (It is never to early to start speculating.) Santorum would provide Romney ideological balance, but not geographic balance (although Pennsylvania is an important swing state.) Santorum also had DC experience. Although Romney is running as a technocrat, he has not actually held a DC office. Technocrat types do not have terrific records as President (Carter and Hoover come to mind – although Customs House director Chester Allen Arthur proved to be surprisingly capable.) Romney, with his MBA background would want a capable VP to advise him on the ways of Washington. However, Santorum is not exactly a grand old man of the Senate like Biden, so Romney might seek a deeper resume.
Of course the most important factor is could Santorum help Romney win the election? This is an open question. Santorum has proved to be a compelling campaigner who speaks eloquently on a number of issues. Santorum would also shore up the base. But on the other side of the ledger, the base despises Obama and would go for Romney regardless. And Santorum turns off lots of moderate voters. Romney will have to do a very hard careful calculation of costs and benefits. This kind of analysis is an area where Romney excels.