Voters head to the polls today in Wisconsin, Maryland, and the District of Columbia as Mitt Romney tries to put away Rick Santorum with a big win. The latest polls show Romney with a clear edge in Wisconsin, up by as much as 10 points, and Maryland is a similar story. Wisconsin has only slightly more delegates up for grabs than Maryland, but the Badger State will be the focus as Santorum has argued that he can win in blue-collar, rust belt states where Romney has struggled.
In both states, as in previous primaries, progressives should be paying attention to three key things that will be relevant in November, assuming Romney wins the nomination:
1. Romeny’s rich/poor gap — As we’ve previously noted, exit polls from the states that have held primaries thus far show Romney wins among wealthy voters, and loses among middle- and working-class voters. In virtually every state, except for ones in which Romney won in an landslide, Romney won among those making more than $100,000 a year (and did even better among $250,000+ earners) and lost lower income brackets.
Throughout the campaign, Romney has had difficulty connecting to voters struggling with a down economy. One CNN poll found that regardless of demographic breakdown — gender, race, age, income, education level, party affiliation, political attitude, geographic region, and Tea Party support — everyone agrees Romney “favors the rich.”
So far, he’s been unsuccessful in fighting this narrative, so it will be important to watch his performance going forward in the primary to see if lower-income Republicans rally to Romney as they accept that he will be the nominee.
2. Women – Romney has also struggled to win support from women. Republicans have lost ground overall after months of ugly debates on contraception and years fighting choice, but Romney has lost even to Santorum here. Going forward, the question will be whether Romney’s struggles with women are an aberration that can be fixed if Republicans stop talking about birth control and Romney becomes the nominee, or there has been permanent damage done.
3. Turnout/ lack of enthusiasm — Despite population growth, increased GOP voter registration, and a supposedly unpopular president to galvanize the base, turnout has been down across the board in the primaries thus far, suggesting a lack of enthusiasm for the candidates among Republican voters. This could spell real trouble for Romney in November, especially in states like Wisconsin, which, while Democratic, has been trending more conservative in recent years, most notably with the election of Gov. Scott Walker (R) and a Republican legislature in 2010.