OKLAHOMA joins nine other states Tuesday as the focal point of the race to be the Republican nominee for president. Our hope is that GOP voters here will make Super Tuesday exactly that for Mitt Romney, the candidate best equipped to unseat President Obama in November and get our nation's economy back on track.
Recent polling has shown Rick Santorum leading in Oklahoma, which comes as no great surprise. Santorum's social conservatism sells with Oklahoma Republicans, and as Republican pollster Pat McFerron noted, Santorum is “not Mitt Romney and he's not Newt Gingrich.” From Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry to Herman Cain to Santorum, in this state and elsewhere the candidate not named Romney has tracked ahead of the one named Romney.
Yet we have felt strongly from the beginning that Romney gives Republican voters the best chance to oust Obama — and that's the ultimate goal, after all. Most Oklahoman GOP voters feel the same way. In a recent survey by SoonerPoll.com of likely Republican voters, 43 percent said Romney was most electable against Obama.
Santorum's surge of the last month reflects the fact his message is resonating with the conservative base of the GOP. But winning in November will require an appeal to moderate Republicans and independents, and Santorum will not be able to do that. Columnist Kathleen Parker stated flatly last week that the GOP will lose if it makes Santorum the nominee. And the party's “insistence on conservative purity, meanwhile, will result in the cold comfort of defeat with honor and, in the longer term, potential extinction.”
On the other side of the aisle, Democrat Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan, couldn't contain her glee as she assessed the campaigning by Republican candidates in advance of the Michigan primary. Writing for Politico.com, she called it “ground zero of the pander festival — with the candidates trying to out-right each other in town halls from Grand Rapids to Detroit.”
She added: “Indeed, the long primary will mean that the newly invigorated far right has ensured that the so-called traditional conservatives — like my dad's generation, the save-your-money, make-prudent-but-conservative-investments kind of conservatives, the pragmatists who are uneasy with the cultural battles — well, they're obviously disposable.”
It's tempting to dismiss Granholm's assessment as liberal schlock, but that would be foolish. The No. 1 issue facing this country is the economy, and the more time GOP candidates spend arguing about their faith or other peripherals, the less time they spend exposing this administration's dismal economic record.
And it is dismal. The Washington Post's Michael Gerson hit some of the lowlights in a recent column: Unemployment above 8 percent for three years; long-term unemployment at its worst levels since 1948; more than 6 million Americans falling into poverty since 2009. Obama “has missed his own objectives on reducing unemployment and the federal debt by a mile” and has done little to curb entitlement spending, “which threatens the security of the elderly and the future stability of the economy.”
Romney has tried to make the economy the centerpiece of his campaign, and has a plan to undo the significant damage inflicted by the Obama administration. But he has veered off message at times while trying to blunt challenges and appeal to primary voters. Santorum only last week got around to laying out his proposals. “I'm glad he recognizes this is going to be a campaign about the economy,” Romney said.
Oklahoma Republican voters should recognize that, too. Social issues are important here, and always will be. But this year, nothing trumps the economy. Nothing else is even close.