Since the Republican nomination process began Jan. 3, 2012, Mitt Romney has been viewed as the frontrunner. Considered the establishment candidate, Romney has in some ways benefitted from his perceived electability and moderate views, yet has been hurt by them in other ways. Romney underperformed in early contests, but recently won six out of 10 states on Super Tuesday.
The battle for the nomination has not been pretty; it has been fraught with personal attacks and continues to expose divisions within the Republican Party. However while negative campaigning may aggravate internal disputes for now, the Republican candidate will be stronger in the general election because he has been vetted and battle tested.
According to a three-day poll conducted Jan. 12 by Fox News, 80 percent of Republican voters say it is very important that the Republican nominee be able to defeat Obama. By comparison, 47 percent say it is very important that the nominee have views that match their own, and 42 percent say it is very important that the nominee be a true conservative.
The vast majority of Republicans see beating Obama as the number one priority. Regardless of the eventual nominee’s ideology, he will have support from the conservative base in the general election because the base is more concerned with defeating Obama than with nominating the candidate that best represents its views. The nominee will also need to win independents to challenge Obama, but evidence suggests that the long primaries will not hurt his chances.
Similarly, the long nomination process is preparing the eventual Republican nominee for competition with the President. Romney has fielded attacks about his time at Bain Capital which are bound to come from the left in the general election, and Rick Santorum has gained nationwide recognition which has enabled him to poll as close as four percent to Obama. The other candidates have demonstrated their strengths as well; Newt Gingrich has proven to be a skilled debater and Ron Paul has proven to have unwavering supporters.
Admittedly, Obama has recently polled better in projected general elections against Republican candidates, but this is a result of increasing confidence in the economy rather than negative campaigning among Republicans.
According to a five-day poll conducted Feb. 8 by CBS News, 59 percent of Americans believe the economy is on the wrong track, but 35 percent believe it is on the right track, the highest percentage in a year.
The economy has historically been important to independent voters, and Obama is reaping the rewards of an improving economic outlook. However, the Republicans will not hand the election to him. If Obama is to win, he will have to earn the votes of independents instead of relying on Republicans to tear their own candidate down.