The Debate

Republicans and the Smithsonian

The Republican primary race is over, says top analyst Charlie Cook. But Romney will represent a changed party.

“You can still find the Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party – it’s in the back hallway of the Smithsonian museum.”

That was leading U.S. political analyst Charlie Cook’s assessment of the state of the party at the seminar at Loyola University in New Orleans I mentioned last week. “It’s not enough to be conservative now,” he said. “You have to be passionate – you have to show you’re angry.”

Voters head to the polls in two states and the District of Columbia today in the latest round of voting in the Republican primary process. But, according to Cook, the race is as good as done. “This thing’s over. It doesn’t seem like it is, but it’s over…So I wish the anchors on these election night specials would switch to decaff by about 4 pm.”

Certainly frontrunner Mitt Romney could take another step forward tonight if he manages to sweep the contests, something that polls show him on course to do. The only real chance for his main rival, Rick Santorum, is for a surprise win in Wisconsin. But with the Republican establishment now more openly coalescing around Romney, it would still take a minor political miracle – even for a race that has had seven different frontrunners – to upend the Romney bandwagon at this stage.

Looking ahead, Cook said that the election is likely going to be won or lost on the economy, and the most reliable indicators for predicting the result, he said, are real disposable income and the president’s job approval rating.

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“I think the outcome has two-thirds to do with the economy in the next seven months. If it continues as it is, Obama wins.”

Still, Cook said there’s also a political element. “How will he (Romney) make the turn, and how long will it take him to reposition himself and get back to appeal to independent voters?”

“I think this is going to close up and be an awfully, awfully close race.”

Either way, Sarah Palin has suggested that the eventual Republican nominee choose someone such as herself as a running mate, The Hill reports today.

“What I would advise the nominee, Mitt Romney, or whomever the nominee is: Don't necessarily play it safe and do just what the GOP establishment expects them to do.” Palin said.

With Romney looking like an increasingly sure bet, the media is increasingly turning to such issues, but when I asked Cook about this, he warned against any such transformational selections. He also questioned the logic of nominees picking someone who fills in their blanks, noting, for example, the success that Bill Clinton had with fellow southerner Al Gore. Instead, he said it’s better to pick candidates that reinforce the message of the candidate himself.

So, who would he recommend that Romney pick if he does indeed become the nominee?

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman both sprang to mind when I asked Cook for some suggestions.

I’ll have something on the results later.