Romney Rivals Are In It For The Long Haul

Florida primary voters handed Mitt Romney a resounding victory on Tuesday. But other GOP candidates declared that they are staying in the race. And President Obama has been busy raising money and trying to energize his base. Host Michel Martin talks about the latest election news with politicos Corey Ealons and Mario Loyola.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, here's a question: How much English is enough English to serve in public office? A small border town in Arizona is debating that question after a city council candidate was ordered removed from the ballot because she was deemed to lack sufficient proficiency in English. This in a town where most residents actually speak Spanish.

We will look at this very interesting question in a few minutes. But first, we want to take a look at the national political landscape as we inch closer to the 2012 general election. Yesterday Florida primary voters were the latest to head to the polls and they handed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney a big win. But both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul are both vowing to stay in the race until the Republican convention in August.

So just what do the latest results mean in the race for the GOP nomination? Here to answer that question, and more, are two of our regular political analysts. Corey Ealons is a former White House communications advisor for President Barack Obama. He's now the senior vice president of the communications firm VOX Global. That's here in Washington, D.C. Mario Loyola is a contributor to National Review. That is the noted conservative publication. He's also the director of the center for Tenth Amendment Studies at The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Welcome back to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.

COREY EALONS: Always good to be here.

MARIO LOYOLA: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: So let's start with last nights results in Florida, what else? Mitt Romney won decisively but he used his victory speech to reframe an issue that's being talked about a lot in political circles. Let's just play a short clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MITT ROMNEY: They like to comfort themselves with the thought that a competitive campaign will leave us divided and weak, but I've got news for them. A competitive primary does not divide us, it prepares us, and we will win.

MARTIN: Well, the they, of course, is the Democrats, more broadly I would assume the Obama administration folks, Obama political team more specifically. But Corey Ealons, what about that, because people might remember in 2008 taking a trip down memory lane there, the primary contest between President Obama, then-Senator Obama, and then-Senator Hillary Clinton, was competitive. It was aggressive. It was lasted a long time. It was tiring, especially for the people who were on the road like you were. What about that analogy?

But people make the argument that it did in fact, you know, as iron sharpens iron, it kind of aired out whatever potential issues may have existed against the ultimate nominee, so that by the time the general election rolled around they had all been dealt with.

What about that argument?

EALONS: Well, there are two things that Romney was trying to do last night with that particular point. First, he was trying to say, look, we're going to be fine. I know I spent a ridiculous amount of money here in Florida bashing Newt Gingrich, but the party ultimately is going to be able to come together. The second piece, he was saying, look, just like Obama and Clinton back in 2008, they went through a rough primary session but ultimately they came together. The party came together and they were successful.

It's an apples and oranges comparison. The reason is, because if you look at the sincere and genuine enthusiasm that you had for each of those candidates, Obama and Clinton in 2008, them going against each other in the rough and tumble way that they did actually made them stronger individually and whomever had emerged was going to be a very strong candidate. Also too, you were running against the best and brightest that we had in the Democratic party at this time.

It's been said over and over again that this is one of the weakest Republican fields that we've seen in some time. So if Romney emerges as the victor, he will have done so against one of the weakest fields in history and having spent an extraordinarily crazy amount of money and run an intensely negative campaign.

MARTIN: Okay, but what about my specific question, which is that one advantage could be that this airs out the potential attack lines that the president's campaign team could level against Romney, and by the time November rolls around, people will have heard it all. They say, okay, fine, you know, yes, he made a ridiculous amount of money. Yes, he has, you know, an offshore bank account, you know, yada yada yada.

EALONS: I think it goes...

MARTIN: Been there, done that.

EALONS: I think it goes back to the point about enthusiasm for the candidates. Ultimately Mitt Romney is still in a place after having spent millions of dollars over the course of the past year, we don't more about him than we knew a year ago, and that's why you see that consistent, persistent enthusiasm gap there for him right now. It (unintelligible) - you didn't see that in 2008 with the Democrats but you see that now with the Republicans, and that's the charge. That's the challenge he has.

MARTIN: Mario, obviously we want to hear your take on this and I'm also interested in your take on whether, you know, Newt Gingrich says he's going to stay. Let's focus on Newt Gingrich for a minute because Ron Paul hasn't managed to win any primary, even though he's been, you know, still managed to be an interesting candidate and raise interesting issues. I'm interested in whether they in fact do have a path to the convention. So your take, please?

LOYOLA: Well, we've got - a lot of the primaries that are ahead of us now are not winner take all primaries, so he can continue - Gingrich can continue to rack up delegates all the way to the convention. And look, I mean 2008 was a contest of personalities. This - the more worrisome comparison for conservatives is 1976, when Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford all the way to the floor of the convention and Ford ultimately got the nomination but emerged from the convention 30 points down under Carter.

Luckily, he was running against Jimmy Carter, who, you know, eliminated - singlehandedly eliminated a lot of that lead. But the thing to consider is, you know, in 1976 you had a fight for the soul of the Republican party. Ronald Reagan was representing, you know, a new, strengthened conservative movement against the old Northeast/Midwest progressive Republican establishment. That's exactly the conflict that we have now in many people's eyes, and you know, Gerald Ford was from Michigan. Obviously Mitt Romney Massachusetts

His father was governor of Michigan. Whereas Gingrich represents, you know, that - is trying to represent and trying to speak to that part of the conservative movement that is angry, you know, and that wants to, you know, that wants to pound(ph) - that wants to defeat President Obama really, really badly.

MARTIN: But I guess the question, the same question, Mario, to you that to Corey is, does this bitter battle - and I don't think you can describe it as anything but bitter at this stage - does it ultimately help the nominee or hurt him, the Republican nominee?

LOYOLA: Well, I mean in 1976 it certainly hurt the Republican nominee. We probably lost that election chiefly because of the pardon, because Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon and because Ronald Reagan challenged him all the way to the convention.

MARTIN: Okay.

LOYOLA: Now, you know, there are lots of angles of attack that the president can't use that we've seen in these primaries, that the president can't use. I mean, you know, Gingrich's main line of attack - one of Gingrich's main lines of attack against Romney has been to compare him to Obama. Obviously Obama's not going to attack Romney if he's the candidate by comparing him to himself.

MARTIN: Give him a big hug.

LOYOLA: So you know, big government...

MARTIN: Big hug and a smoochie at every turn.

LOYOLA: Yeah.

MARTIN: Saying love you – love you, man.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LOYOLA: Michel...

EALONS: You're so much like me. We're so alike.

MARTIN: We're so alike. Hold on a second.

If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're visiting with Mario Loyola, a contributor to The National Review. That's the noted conservative publication. And Corey Ealons, a former communications advisor to President Barack Obama. We're talking about last night's results and whatever else is on their minds. Corey?

LOYOLA: Corey, one other quick point is this piece is much more personal, with the Republicans right now, with Romney and Gingrich going after each other. This is very, very personal right now, and that's why you see the reaction that you're getting from Newt Gingrich. He's going to stay in this race just so he can throw Mitt Romney under the bus, and I think he will do anything that he can at this point to keep him from getting the nomination.

MARTIN: I don't know. The whole Obama/Hillary thing seemed a little personal to me. I mean, they seemed to have gotten over it, but wasn't that essentially a character battle? Wasn't it essentially an argument over who had the character to lead the country at a pivotal moment?

EALONS: I think - I don't know if it was character. I think that was more...

MARTIN: I mean the differences, quote, "philosophically," were just not that large.

EALONS: Well, exactly, and I think that was much more about experience. The fact that Hillary had been there and then Senator Obama had not, and so that was the rub at that point.

MARTIN: Well, Mario, this is our first real peek as to how Latino voters are responding to the GOP candidates. Can you just tell us what you saw?

LOYOLA: Well, Latinos broke for Romney in a big way. There's a couple of things there. The three Cuban-American representatives from South Florida endorsed Romney a couple of months ago.

Of course, Senator Marco Rubio hasn't endorsed anyone formally, but you have the political establishment of the Cuban-American community has really embraced and, you know, coordinated carefully with Governor Romney.

You know, and Latinos is - there's going to be a lot of commentary about that, you know, comparing positions on immigration and so forth. You know, in immigration, both Speaker Gingrich and Governor Romney are fairly open-minded and progressive and are not really stridently anti-immigrant. It's not fair to describe either of them as anti-immigrant.

But look, I think there's something more visceral here, which is that Latinos - I have the sense that Latinos, maybe more than other groups of voters, tend to vote for the person that they like more and Romney is a nice guy, you know, and the people who like Gingrich like him because he's not a nice guy. You know, and the people who like Gingrich and gravitate towards Gingrich like him because he's angry like they are. You know what I mean?

MARTIN: Well, that's interesting. It'll be something to watch.

LOYOLA: And he's...

MARTIN: It'll be something to watch, but then again, wouldn't this argue advantage Obama because his likability - even when people don't approve of his performance, they still like him.

LOYOLA: Yeah. I mean, I think that the Republican candidates' way to overcome that is going to be to say, look, yeah. Obama's a nice guy. He just doesn't know what he's doing and, frankly, I mean, compared to Clinton, that case is going to be a fairly easy one to make, I think...

MARTIN: Well, OK.

LOYOLA: ...in the general election.

MARTIN: Something to watch. One more thing, Corey, before we let you go. We must talk about the superPACs and also the fundraising figures. Federal Election Commission filings show that, in the last quarter of 2011, President Obama's campaign raised $40 million. That brings his bank balance to a cool $81 million. He's getting a lot of money from donors who are giving $200 or less, whereas Mr. Romney's and Gingrich's campaigns are getting big donations from people who are maxed out.

But then there is the superPACs. Do you think - or do you think the Obama team is worried that the superPACs will erase their fundraising advantage?

EALONS: Oh, that's always a threat. That's always a threat. Another quick point to make is that the majority of the donations for the Obama campaign have come from people who are in the middle class, while the majority of the contributions for the Romney effort are coming from folks who are much more like him, from the big donors.

And so, yes, I think that one of the things that President Obama is going to have to wrap his head around very quickly is how he's going to deal with the superPACs because right now he's not really letting people give to the superPACs. He's not encouraging them to do so, not that he can, but this is something that he's going to have to wrap his head around because he's going to be at a severe disadvantage potentially come the fall when you just have one candidate and everybody's got their guns bearing on him.

MARTIN: But if he does, then doesn't it lead into that Tweedledee, Tweedledum argument that progressives make that there's really no big difference between the two political parties, so what's the difference? What's the problem?

EALONS: Well, I will tell you that, ultimately, this is about making sure that you're in a position of power to continue to do the things that you think are best for the country. So campaigns are about winning at the end.

MARTIN: Well, you've given - both of you have given us something to think about and to watch, so we'll keep watching.

EALONS: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Corey Ealons is a former White House communications advisor for President Barack Obama. He's now senior vice president of the communications firm, VOX Global here in Washington, D.C. He was with us in our Washington, D.C. studio.

Mario Loyola is a contributor to National Review and director of the Center for 10th Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He was with us from Austin, Texas.

Gentlemen, thank you.

LOYOLA: Thank you.

EALONS: Always good. Be well.

MARTIN: Coming up, the mayor of a small border town is challenging one city council candidate's eligibility. He says she doesn't speak English well enough to represent her would-be constituents.

MAYOR JUAN CARLOS ESCAMILLA: How would you make the right choice for our people if you're not able to understand the material that's being presented before you?

MARTIN: So just how much English is enough English for public office? We'll have that conversation in a few minutes on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

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