Cosman: The GOP primary race continues to cause divisions in party’s support

Four days after former Sen. Rick Santorum swept the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses and the Missouri primary, former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney won the Maine caucus with 39 percent of the vote. Santorum, who won handily less than a week before, managed only 18 percent of the vote. In a primary race where it seems someone new is winning every other state, Maine’s caucus is just further proof the Republican Party simply can’t get behind one candidate.

Romney’s fair-sized lead in delegates – 123 to Santorum’s 72 – comes mainly from his win in Florida and his inconsistent showing in other states proves he is far from a lock for the nomination. Yes, I still believe it is likely he wins the nomination but his failure to unite the GOP does not bode well for him when it comes time for the general election.

That the Republican Party still seems to be looking for the “not Mitt Romney” candidate certainly does not instill confidence in Romney once he actually becomes the Republican nominee. True, republicans are going to vote for Romney before they vote for President Obama but the worry becomes whether or not conservatives are going to show up to the polls if it comes down to a choice between the two, which many of them will see as a lose/lose.

I do realize the varying results between the states so far has a lot to do with different regional demographics – of course Romney was going to win New Hampshire and Maine and Santorum was going to do well in the Midwest but the bigger issue for Romney is the difference in ideological demographics. He simply cannot compete with Santorum or former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich when it comes to social conservatives. Romney is proof of the growing division within the Republican Party.

Assuming he does win the nomination, it will be interesting to see whom Romney selects as his running mate. I do not believe it will be another candidate currently running (the primary thus far has seen too much in-fighting, in my opinion, for any differences to be reconciled) but if Romney does select a running mate that appeals to the conservative base, it may be enough to convince voters to turn out once November comes around. Someone like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (who I still think has his hat in the ring despite what he says) could provide the conservative appeal Romney needs.

Of course I could be wrong about all of this. We’re still 10 months out from Election Day and it’s unlikely anyone but the politically active are paying close attention to the GOP primary. The majority of republican voters could be completely unaware of Romney’s inability to unite the party and will support whoever comes out of the Republican National Convention as the nominee no matter what. To those who are currently paying attention, however, the constant fluctuations in primary results and “front-runner” labels is glaring evidence that the GOP has a long way to go before it gets behind a single candidate.