The Election 2012 Weekly Report: An Ohio Tipping Point?

Nail-biter in Michigan Mitt Romney easily won the Arizona primary on Tuesday and eked out a victory against a surging Rick Santorum in Michigan, where Romney was born and his father was a popular governor. While Santorum cast the close contest as a victory of sorts ("a month ago, they didn’t know who we are," ...

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Nail-biter in Michigan

Mitt Romney easily won the Arizona primary on Tuesday and eked out a victory against a surging Rick Santorum in Michigan, where Romney was born and his father was a popular governor. While Santorum cast the close contest as a victory of sorts ("a month ago, they didn’t know who we are," he told supporters), the results solidified Romney’s status as the frontrunner in the topsy-turvy Republican race. The former Massachusetts governor, who now has roughly double the number of delegates as Santorum, is leading the pack of remaining GOP candidates comfortably in most national polls.

Iran and gas prices

Last month, Newt Gingrich shifted the focus of his campaign to energy in a bet that owning the issue of rising gas prices could help him claw back into the race. Gingrich has pledged to lower gas prices to $2.50 per gallon by increasing domestic energy production through initiatives such as the Keystone XL pipeline. Now, as tensions mount with Iran over its nuclear program and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to visit Washington, the other candidates are following suit. Romney accused President Barack Obama of stifling fracking — a controversial technique to unlock oil and gas in underground rock formations — through excessive regulations, Santorum went so far as to brandish a piece of oil-rich shale rock during his Michigan concession speech to demonstrate his support for the energy industry. (In another nod to stage props this week, Ron Paul waved a silver coin at Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to argue for returning to the gold and silver standard.)

Obama has been talking energy too, calling for an end to $4 billion in annual tax breaks and subsidies for oil and gas companies. A Pew survey released on Thursday found that voters are spreading the blame for rising gas prices among the administration, oil companies, and Iran — though Republicans are much more likely to blame Obama.

Obama: "I don’t bluff"

In an interview with the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg on Iran ahead of a meeting with Netanyahu, Obama declared that the United States would consider taking military action to destroy Iran’s nuclear program if economic sanctions fail to compel it to comply with international inspections, but added that now is not the right time for a preemptive Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. "I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff," he noted. "I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are." On Twitter, former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann shot back: "Obama doesn’t ‘go around advertising exactly what our [foreign policy] intentions are?’ What about #Iraq/#Afghanistan?"

As he launches his reelection campaign, Obama has been trumpeting foreign policy successes such as ending the war in Iraq and killing Osama bin Laden. While "the other side traditionally seems to feel that the Democrats are somehow weak on defense," he recently told supporters, "they’re having a little trouble making that argument this year" (a poll last month found that voters trust Obama more than Romney to handle international affairs). Yet Bloomberg‘s Terry Atlas points out that, in an election dominated by economic concerns, "foreign policy barely registers as an issue in public opinion polls," though an "arc of crises from Libya to Afghanistan" may yet change all that.

Read what George W. Bush advisors Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie have to say on the matter in the latest issue of Foreign Policy — and a spirited rebuttal by Democratic pollsters Stanley Greenberg and Jeremy Rosner.

Apologizing in Afghanistan

The Republican candidates have long accused Obama of apologizing for America’s actions abroad, and this week the refrain came in the context of the president apologizing to Afghans for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan even as U.S. soldiers were killed in retaliation. Gingrich called the apology "astonishing" and suggested that the United States tell Afghans, "You’re going to have to figure out how to live your own miserable life." Santorum accused Obama of "weakness" while Romney also criticized the decision.

In a larger piece about the Republicans and Afghanistan, Dominic Tierney at the Atlantic argues that the Republican Party is deeply divided about Afghanistan. The fundamental question facing the GOP, he writes, is whether the "end of defeating radical Islam [is] worth the means of big government nation-building."

Santorum’s ‘snob’ snafu

Santorum stirred controversy this week by suggesting that Obama was a "snob" for wanting "everybody in America to go to college." Obama "wants to remake you in his image," the former Pennsylvania senator argued. "I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his." Santorum appeared to subsequently backtrack from the comments, noting in his Michigan concession speech that his mother was an "unusual person for her time" by getting a college education in the 1930s, but the comment nevertheless touched off a debate about U.S. education. News outlets pointed out that Obama also supports the type of vocational training that Santorum champions, and that the former Pennsylvania senator backed increasing grants for college students during his reelection campaign in 2006.

What to watch for

All eyes now turn to Super Tuesday on March 6, when ten states will vote and more than 400 delegates will be up for grabs. The biggest battleground is the delegate-rich swing state of Ohio, where Romney has steadily been cutting into Santorum’s lead. "For Romney," the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza notes, "it’s uniquely possible that winning the Buckeye State on Tuesday would effectively clinch the presidential nomination for him."

The latest from FP

Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie offer a primer to the GOP candidates on how to beat Barack Obama on foreign policy.

Jeremy Rosner and Stanley Greenberg respond by pointing out that Americans have confidence in Obama as commander in chief.

Michael Cohen adds that Rove and Gillespie are "stuck in a 9/12 mindset."

Reza Aslan presents readers with a quiz: Who said it, Rick Santorum or Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei?

Gal Luft wonders whether Obama will remake himself into a war president when faced with a choice between high gas prices and a nuclear Iran.

Michael Levi argues that Obama’s record on energy is stronger than his Republican rivals claim.

Vaclav Smil explains why Mitt Romney is right to focus on the importance of Canadian energy.

Scott Clement points out that while Americans may not like North Korea, few want to go to war over its nuclear weapons.

Jack Chow makes the case for why a President Santorum would be great news for the AIDS fight in Africa.

Susan Glasser connects the dots on the nasty rhetoric in the U.S. and Russian elections.

Daniel Drezner maintains that Santorum’s views on manufacturing are antiquated.

 Twitter: @UriLF

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