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Triple primaries could spell the end for Santorum

Romney gains ground as Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, DC go to the polls.

Mitt romney wisconsin 2012 4 3Enlarge
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney attends a town hall style meeting at Moore Oil on April 2, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With one day to go before the Wisconsin primary, Mitt Romney makes a final push through the state (Justin Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – Life is beautiful in the nation’s capital: tulips and azaleas line the streets, the air is sweet with the scent of the city’s signature cherry blossoms, now past their peak.

It seems a shame to pollute the atmosphere with something as crass as politics, and Washington residents are happy to oblige.

“When is the primary?” asked a normally well-informed, highly educated documentary film producer, over coffee Sunday afternoon. “Tuesday? Here? Really?”

It will not be much of a contest in the District: the presumed frontrunner, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, will take it in a walk. His chief rival, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, is not even on the ballot, having failed to fulfill the registration requirements.

Unless Washingtonians develop a sudden passion for also-rans Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich, or for former ambassador to China John Huntsman, whose name is still on the ballot, Romney will reap the 19 delegates at stake in DC.

That leaves Wisconsin, where Romney and Santorum have been duking it out for more than a week. It seems that no bowling alley, sub shop or golf course has escaped campaign activity in the battle for the state’s 42 delegates.

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Wisconsin’s Faith and Freedom Coalition reeled in the Romney, Santorum and Gingrich fans on Saturday, where the three took pains to portray the president’s health care initiative – known as “Obamacare” – as a frontal assault on religious freedom.

Wisconsin could be the end for Santorum: if Romney pulls off a convincing win, which most polls indicate he will, then he will have such a commanding lead that Santorum will be left in the dust, with little hope and, more importantly, almost no funding.

So far Santorum is hanging tough, stepping up his attacks on Romney and trying to boost his status as “the true conservative." He refuses to concede any ground, despite Romney’s calm assertions that Santorum is finished.

The former Pennsylvania senator says he will stay in the race at least until his home state holds its primary on April 24, and maybe, given divine intervention, beyond that.

“One of the campaigns for president a week or so ago suggested that it would take an act of God for Rick Santorum to win the Republican nomination,” said the candidate, speaking last week in Wisconsin. “I don’t know about you, but I believe in acts of God.”

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Despite all the frenetic activity, however, Wisconsin has bigger things on its mind.

“The presidential primary is definitely being overshadowed by the gubernatorial recall,” said Josh Zepnick, a State Representative from the Milwaukee area.

Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, will face a recall motion on June 5 for what many see as his war on public sector workers, who have faced pay cuts, loss of benefits and the end of their collective bargaining rights.

“People are very angry about this,” Zepnick said.

So angry, in fact, that they may be ignoring the numerous robo-calls, attack ads and other activity that has so far characterized the presidential race.

“I do not think the campaigning has been effective,” added Zepnick. “I think turnout will be pretty light.”

Jason Lacey, a financial planner who votes republican, is similarly underwhelmed.

“Nobody’s paying much attention to the race,” he said. “The primary is definitely secondary here.”

Lacey confesses that he has not made a decision. He likes Santorum, who, he thinks, connects better with the average man. He finds Romney “robotic.”

Still, he is leaning towards the Massachusetts governor.

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“We need a leader, not a chum,” he said.

Maryland is also holding its primary on Tuesday, although there are few signs that the race has caught fire there. Romney and Santorum have restricted their campaigns to Wisconsin, with the exception of a brief Romney appearance on March 21 in the small town of Arbutus, Maryland.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich have done a bit more, but Santorum has not set foot in the state. Instead, he sent his brother Dan to Frederick last Thursday.

Most polls predict that Maryland’s 37 delegates will go primarily to Romney.

No matter what happens in the three contests today, enthusiasm is waning across the board for what has been an ugly and bruising contest. Romney and Santorum have engaged in a degree of viciousness usually reserved for attacks on the opposing side, and it may be difficult to heal the rift once the nomination is set.

Few doubt that Romney will ultimately be the Republican candidate, but even fewer are excited about the prospect.

“I am leaning about 70 percent towards voting for Romney,” said Lacey, the money manager from Wisconsin. “But I don’t think any of those guys can beat Obama in the fall.”

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/120403/santorum-romney-washington-dc-wisconsin-primary-election