Why Mitt Romney didn't come down hard on Rush Limbaugh

Polls in Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia show that Rush Limbaugh Republicans lean toward Rick Santorum. Mitt Romney could not afford to lose any of those votes, especially in Ohio.

(AP Photo/ABC, Lou Rocco)
Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke during an appearance on the talk show, "The View," Monday in New York. Fluke said that she hasn't heard from Rush Limbaugh since he issued a written apology late Saturday.

Earlier this week Decoder wrote about what many in the media called Mitt Romney’s “missed opportunity” to condemn conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh for calling Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” and thereby make himself look brave and principled in the process. Romney – a famously cautious politician who evidently didn’t feel standing up to Limbaugh was worth the risk – chose instead to basically dodge the issue, only saying he wouldn’t have used that “language.”

Now we come across some data that underscore why Romney may have made that decision.

Public Policy Polling asked Republican voters in Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia (three states that voted Tuesday) about the whole Limbaugh/Fluke saga. Overall, they found Rush’s popularity has taken a significant hit. The last time the group polled on Limbaugh, he was at 80 percent favorable, 12 percent unfavorable among Republicans nationally. But now, Limbaugh's favorability is below 50 percent in all three states surveyed, coming in at 45/28 among Republicans in Ohio, 46/29 in Tennessee, and 44/30 in Georgia. Among Republican women, the numbers sink even lower.

But when you look at how those numbers correlate to candidate preferences, you see why Romney may have held his tongue. PPP writes: 

“Among Ohio Republicans who like Limbaugh, Rick Santorum leads Mitt Romney 39-35.  With ones who dislike him, Romney has the 39-30 advantage.”

Romney could not afford to lose any of the 35 percent of Limbaugh supporters who were planning to vote for him. If anything, he needed more of those voters in his corner. 

On another matter, PPP also polled on the birther issue - and found that more than a third of likely GOP voters in Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia do not believe President Obama was born in the US (in Ohio, it’s as high as 42 percent). Which reminded Decoder of this piece from the Borowitz Report: “In Positive Economic Sign, Republicans Starting to Say Obama Wasn’t Born in the US Again.”

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