The Biggest Game Of Them All

That sorry excuse for football called the Pro Bowl is behind us. So too the betting man’s idea of heaven: the Super Bowl. With the post-lockout NBA playing catchup and March madness a month away, we turn our attention to the American spectator sport that’s never out of season: politics.

They play it in the primaries, the play it in Congress, they play it in both evenand oddnumbered years. It’s electionyear politics and in the age of polarization, it’s the big game that never ends.

It’s Team Fox News vs. Team MSNBC, the Red States versus the Blue, the folks who think that a less-than 15 percent tax rate on income of $42 million is just dandy versus those who will countenance not a word about means-testing for Medicare or increasing the age for Social Security.

Ain’t it grand?

Well, it is and it isn’t. Consider the ongoing spectacle of the Republican Party trying to choose a presidential candidate. It lost frontrunner Herman Cain to a flurry of sexual harassment allegations; it lost frontrunner Rick Perry to a series of televised brain burps; it lost frontrunner Newt Gingrich (momentarily, at least) to a $16-million assault of super-PAC advertisements from people who love that guy who paid less than a 15 percent tax rate on income of $42 million.

That guy is, of course, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Romney now leads in the delegate count for Republican nomination for president. He leads, but among Republicans thus far counted, he’s hardly loved.

Iowa Republicans certainly didn’t love him. Pollsters and pundits expected Romney to win the Hawkeye State with ease. He came in second to Rick Santorum by 34 votes, and Santorum plus four other conservative Republican candidates took 75 percent of the vote to Romney’s 25 percent.

Romney showed better in New Hampshire, where he won 39 percent of the vote. Former New Mexico Gov. Jon Huntsman got 17 percent, thus giving Republican moderates a 56-42 percent win over the four conservatives on the ballot.

It would be their last. Huntsman dropped out and endorsed Romney, who moved on triumphantly to South Carolina where Gingrich won the primary and conservative candidates took 71 percent of the vote to Romney’s 28 percent. Deeper South in Florida, Romney’s campaign and super PAC bludgeoned Gingrich, giving Romney the win and 50 delegates; but the three surviving conservative aspirants Gingrich, Santorum and Ron Paul still outpolled Romney 54 percent to 46 percent.

In the Nevada caucuses, Romney would finally get his 50 percent just. He received 50.1; the rest went to his more conservative brethren.

Then came last Tuesday, Feb. 7. Little polling had been done, but Santorum was expected to win a beauty contest in Missouri, which he did with 55 percent of the vote. Romney took 25 percent, Paul 12 percent. Score it conservatives 67, Romney 25.

Romney won Minnesota in the 2008 Republican primaries. Santorum took it this year with Romney running a poor third. Conservatives won 83 percent of the Republican vote to Romney’s 17 percent.

Colorado was expected to fall into the Romney column. It didn’t. Santorum again with 38 percent of the vote to Romney’ 35 percent. Add 13 percent each for Paul and Gingrich and the conservatives triumphed 6435.

Poor Mitt. He looks presidential, handles himself well in debate and boasts unmatchable access to campaign funds. You’d think that would get him some Republican love.

No way. At this point in the primary contests, it’s gotten him votes, a lead in the delegate count and cries that he’s nothing but a “Massachusetts moderate.”

In the 2012 Grand Old Party, those aren’t the sweet whisperings of the enamored.