Saturday, January 07, 2012

Health care and religion: what dogs Romney the most?

Much hay has been made over Governor Romney and how his history with supporting health care and his affiliation with a non-evangelical Christian faith will trouble him in his bid for the Republican nomination this year. With the Republican field shaking out the way it has been, just how much of a problem will these traits that Republicans find so offensive be?

As to health care, Romney has been doing all he can to distance himself from his celebrated Romneycare, which we enjoy here in Massachusetts. He's trying to suggest that health care can only work if it's treated as a states' rights issue, and not as a national plan. This is not logical, but "states' rights" rings the right bells with Republican partisans, so that might work. Once Romney has the nomination locked up, Republicans will stop trying to hang health care around his neck. That's when Barack Obama will start expressing public gratitude to Romney for the great health care plan he inspired.

Romney's religion is probably going to matter, but exactly how, who knows? In the North and much of the Midwest, voters largely don't care; and in the West, his Mormon roots would probably serve as a net positive. Evangelical voters in the South and the southern Midwest, however, do have a problem with it. However, that problem might be neutralized by the fact that Romney's two main rivals, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, are Catholics--another group that evangelical Christians aren't too high on. (Many evangelicals don't even consider Catholics to be actual Christians, which is the same take they have on Mormons.) Rick Perry is the only Protestant conservative with a notable following, but his numbers aren't notable to wind up putting him in office.

In the end, the religion problem is bigger in the primaries than it will be in the general. The Romney campaign (well, its surrogates, anyway,) is more likely to go extremely negative, aiming to depress Obama support everywhere. If it can depress enough Obama support in the South, then the dampened enthusiasm on the part of evangelical conservatives won't matter. A guy like Mitt Romney doesn't excite anyone, which is why, overall, negativity is they way his campaign is going to have to operate. He has no other way to overcome the diffidence that even Republicans feel about him. It's going to get ugly.

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