E.J. Dionne writes that President Obama will benefit from Mitt Romney’s hard right turn in the Ohio primary, in his column, “The GOP: Missing The Primary Issue.”
What happens in Ohio politics never stays in Ohio, and there are two storylines here on the eve of Super Tuesday.
There is, first, the Republican presidential primary fight. Rick Santorum has to win Ohio to keep his candidacy alive. A Mitt Romney triumph would, at last, turn him into the “inevitable” Republican nominee. The second narrative involves the struggle for a state that Republicans must take in November to have any chance of defeating President Obama.
The problem for Republicans is that the two storylines are not coming together.
Ideally, the arguments candidates make during key state primaries are also a case for why voters should back them come election time. This is what happened here — and also in states such as Indiana and North Carolina — during the epic fight for the Democratic presidential nomination between Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.
Obama lost Ohio to Clinton, but the voters he needed against her in the white working class and middle class were the people he eventually had to get to beat John McCain. Obama’s heavy investment here, and the pivot Clinton’s challenge required him to make toward voters who were most resistant to him, paid off when Ohio backed Obama in the fall.
But this year, Romney is being forced to do precisely the opposite: He is directing most of his attention to the GOP’s conservative base, which would never, ever support for Obama. Santorum’s challenge is pushing Romney to tilt his argument toward ideological issues that appeal to the right and away from kitchen table issues that move practically minded voters in places like Parma, a proud working-class bastion on the outskirts of Cleveland.