Two quick thoughts on the news that Rick Santorum is dropping out of the Republican presidential race:
- This can only be considered good news for opponents of the marriage amendment that would put North Carolina's ban on gay marriage into the state constitution. The amendment will probably cruise to passage anyway, but Santorum's departure gives social conservatives one less reason to turn out to vote. Romney will be the presumed nominee on May 8. And Republican Pat McCrory faces no stiff competition in his primary for governor. Democrats, for their part, have little top-of-the-ballot excitement either, but at least have three established candidates running to replace Bev Perdue as governor. That should help amendment foes. Even so, we'd be surprised if those dynamics are enough to tilt the final tally against the measure.
- So now it's Romney vs. Obama. Where does Mitt go from here? With Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul on his right flank, the life-long Massachusetts centrist has been insisting he's "severely conservative." Will he tack back toward the center? He should. Though it would drive conservative activists -- and many of our readers -- up the wall, it's simply smart political strategy. There aren't enough "severely conservative" voters to outnumber all the Democrats and independents. Presidential contests are won by the 10 to 20 percent of voters in the middle, not by rousing the fringes. Bill Clinton proved that in 1992 and then overcame his midterm debacle by moving even more to the center to win again in 1996. George W. Bush won on "compassionate conservatism" in 2000. Romney risks cementing his reputation as a flip-flopper, but his key to beating the president is convincing centrists that his business acumen makes him better able than Obama to turn around this stubborn economy.
-- Taylor Batten