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After Super Tuesday: How damaged is Mitt Romney to run against Obama?

After Super Tuesday: The assumption is that Mitt Romney damages himself and the GOP as he continues to battle Santorum and others to the nomination. That's true, but only in part. The grueling primary process has also strengthened him. Just as it strengthened Obama in 2008.

By John J. Pitney Jr. / March 7, 2012

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney waves with his wife Ann at his Super Tuesday primary election night rally in Boston March 6. He's spending money rapidly, but he also has a super PAC to help him.

Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

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Claremont, Calif.

Despite Mitt Romney’s victories, most recently his six wins on Super Tuesday, pundits depict him as gravely wounded. Democratic strategist Robert Shrum crows that the bitter GOP battle has so hurt the former Massachusetts governor that it renders the nomination “increasingly worthless” for the general election – and Republicans worry that he may be right.

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Both sides should reserve judgment. There has been political bloodshed, of course, but the scars will be less severe and long-lasting than Democrats hope and Republicans fear.

Let’s start by gauging the damage to date.

As of last month, the Romney campaign’s outlays had already topped $55 million, and he’s lately been spending money twice as fast as he’s been taking it in. He will have to work hard to refill his war chest since many of his donors have already given the legal limit for the nomination campaign.

What’s more, much of the money has gone to activities focusing on the primaries and caucuses. These activities – such as getting voters to the polls on primary days – will do the GOP little good in the general election. Meanwhile, President Obama faces no serious opposition for the Democratic nomination, so his organization has already been gearing up for November.

Nomination campaigns require a special kind of issue strategy. In the 1990s, Richard Nixon famously wrote  to Republican Sen. Robert Dole about how one gets to the White House.

“You have to run as far as you can to the right because that’s where 40 percent of the people who decide the nomination are. And to get elected you have to run as fast as you can back to the middle, because only about 4 percent of the nation’s voters are on the extreme right wing.” Mr. Dole won the nomination in 1996, but lost in the general election to incumbent Bill Clinton.

The GOP leans even more to the right today, so the candidates have had to take some very conservative positions, especially on social issues and immigration.

Party moderates argue that these stands could keep the nominee from winning Democratic and independent votes, and alienate women and Latinos. For instance, the debate over contraception and the verbal attack on a female law student by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh are the kinds of issues that can turn off women.

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