Although Mitt Romney clearly benefitted from a win in the Democratic stronghold of Illinois Tuesday, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich head into the Louisiana contest on Saturday knowing that the front-runner remains vulnerable among tea party conservatives and other key groups of voters, Democratic pollster Doug Schoen tells Newsmax.
“His base was narrow,” Schoen declared in an exclusive interview after the Illinois primary on Tuesday. “It’s just the electorate was more moderate and less evangelical than those in the Southern states.”
Romney snagged nearly 47 percent of the Illinois vote, compared with Santorum's 35 percent, Congressman Ron Paul's 9 percent, and former House Speaker Gingrich's 8 percent.
Based on the exit poll data, Schoen said Romney failed to capture the evangelical vote, tea party voters, and people earning less than $100,000 a year.
“He lost downstate Illinois,” Schoen observed.
Moreover, 4 out of 10 Republicans say they still have doubts about the candidates. “It’s clear that, with low turnout and a skeptical electorate, the Republicans — and especially Romney — still have a long way to go to close the deal,” Schoen said.
To some extent, that’s a bitter pill for the Romney camp, considering that Romney outspent former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum by an overwhelming margin in Illinois, Schoen said.
“What I think we’re seeing is it’s still a solid majority of Republicans — even in a state like Illinois, where Romney outspent Santorum with the super PAC 21 to 1 — still have voted against the Massachusetts governor,” he said.
So far, Romney appears to be drawing his support from more well-heeled voters, which could dampen his chances in a general election against President Barack Obama.
“He is appealing to upscale moderate, to somewhat conservative Republicans,” Schoen said. “He’s got to broaden his appeal and develop something more than negative ads — attacks on his opponents — to a vision for America.”
Indeed, the dynamics of Romney’s victory in The Prairie State were not lost on Santorum, who called to congratulate the governor before addressing supporters in his home state of Pennsylvania.
“If you look at what’s going to happen tonight, we’re doing to win downstate. We’re going to win central Illinois. We’re going to win western Illinois,” Santorum declared. “We won the areas that conservatives and Republicans populate, and we’re very happy about that. We’re happy about the delegates we’re going to get too.”
Although Romney maintains a significant delegate lead, he still lacks the necessary 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination, and Schoen believes that Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich conceivably could team up to deny Romney’s bid.
“I’m saying the arithmetic looks increasingly better for Romney,” Schoen said. “The voters still have not weighed in decisively on his behalf.”
Although Schoen favors Santorum to win Saturday’s contest in Louisiana, he said Romney could turn the election dramatically in his favor with an unexpected victory there.
“If he wins Louisiana, it would be a decisive turning point,” predicted Schoen, who said the absence of a clear economic message has hurt Santorum.
“The fact that he does not have a coherent economic message — that he is not speaking about jobs and the economy consistently — has hurt him everywhere, and especially in Illinois,” Schoen noted.
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