Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has received a jolt in his campaign with losses in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado. In Colorado and Missouri, he could manage only a second place. But in Minnesota, a state which he won by 60 percent votes in the 2008 primaries, he was reduced to a third position behind Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.
In the Colorado caucus too, he lost to Santorum after leading in the trial polls by 10 points. According to forecasts, Romney is still leading in many of the Feb and March polling states and also tops the Republican polls nationally. But the recent setbacks have certainly raised fresh questions about his acceptability among the various sections of the GOP voters.
What did actually go wrong with Romney? How did he lose the aura of inevitability that surrounded him? Despite having the money and a strong organization, why are his acceptability and ratings heading south?
The answers to these questions apparently lie in his personal and professional track record and also the GOP's conservative voter base. As far as GOP voters are concerned, convictions, conservatism and hardcore Republican principles are inevitable virtues for a presidential nominee.
How did Romney secure an early lead, then? The GOP consists of different categories of voters: moderates, conservatives, neo- conservatives, evangelicals, Hispanic, Tea Party activists, pro- establishment and pro-capitalism advocates and a section of independent but anti-Democrat voters. To get the Republican nomination, a candidate is required to secure the backing from several of these sections, if not all.
Romney, who has solid funds and a well-organized campaign mechanism, did well in the pre-poll stages. His strategy of projecting himself as the only candidate who can beat Barack Obama worked well for him so far.
Romney, who had contested unsuccessfully in the 2008 primaries, knows exactly well how to secure the backing of the GOP and the media. His campaign, in fact, tailored his image to meet the expectations of the majority conservatives in the GOP.
Thus Romney, who was a moderate during his early political years, changed his stance to align with the right conservatism in the 2008 elections and even shifted himself to ultra conservatism in the past two weeks of the 2012 campaign.
The GOP's conservative base supporters are hardcore believers in pro-life, and are against gay marriage and rights. So, Romney, who unfortunately was in wrong side on spectrum of the GOP's core values till he decided to run for the presidential nomination in 2008, changed his stance from pro-choice to pro-life and even started opposing gay rights from 2005.
The paradigmatic shift in his positions made Romney an eligible Republican presidential contender, but he lost out on his credibility. It is not unusual for a person to change his beliefs. Therefore, Romney's change of mind wasn't a big issue among the GOP voters in 2008, but the morality of such a drastic change had raised questions.
Romney continued with the same strategy in the 2012 campaign also, but he tactfully concentrated more on other issues like Obama's governance and Gingrich's alleged corruption than harping on themes like pro-life and gay issues initially.
With Santorum, whose only weapon to win the battle is his ultraconservative beliefs, gaining in some of the states, Romney seems to have had a rethink on his strategy and decided to push things far more to the right.
What worked against him are the pace with which he changed his stance and the extent of the change itself, and also the timing.
Romney, in his attempt to project himself as the Republican president, played too much and too fast with his stances, an act which raised doubts about his beliefs and convictions instead of boosting his acceptability. He started championing extreme conservative values by using every single opportunity to repeatedly state that he is the ultimate conservative candidate in the fray.
In Colorado and Minnesota, he even went to the extent of saying that morning after pills are abortive pills, according to an ABC news report. He further criticized Obama's health care plan and funding to Planned Parenthood, during the campaign rallies there.
Romney opportunely forgot the fact he himself had backed such pills being made available and that Obama's healthcare plan was based on his Massachusetts model. Moreover, he was one of the ardent promoters of the Planned Parenthood.
Such a U-turn on major policy issues and beliefs in such a short period is something that will make any voter to think twice about Romney's commitment and credibility. Moreover, the suspicion among the voters that he has changed his values to win the nomination has eroded the trust in him. In the process, he also lost another section of voters- the independents and the moderates - who otherwise would have voted for him. Thus Romney failed to convince the hardcore GOP voters as well as the moderates, leading to his losing ground in the primaries.
The latest developments appear to suggest that the majority of the GOP sections are still suspecting Romney's commitment to core issues.
The only factors that rescued Romney so far are his money and a well-run organization and also the image he himself has created as the only candidate who can beat Obama. Despite such efforts, he is on shaky ground with both Santorum and Paul closing in, according to the opinion polls. After all, national acceptability can be won only if the support stems from the grass root level.
Minnesota, Colorado and Iowa are comparatively smaller states, and the verdicts there do not mean that it is all over for Romney. But these results send alarm signals for Romney and could potentially undermine the aura of inevitability around him.