Donald Lambro

The party primary system we have now was developed to vet candidates like these and to cool the passions of the voters who may get swept away by a slick, Elmer Gantry-sounding politico, only to discover he lacks substance, stability, focus and a broad base of support.

So here we are, after having endured primary contests in 34 states, with the field effectively winnowed down to just two candidates: former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

Each has weaknesses and strengths. But at this writing it now appears Romney is going to be the nominee -- the steady, focused, long-distance runner who knows that cross-country races are won by marathoners with stamina, not by sprinters who fade in the homestretch.

It hasn't been an easy sale for the former businessman who helped start countless companies that have become household names and now employ tens of thousands of Americans. But in the end, he stayed focused on the No. 1 issue that will decide if Barack Obama is a one-term president: a weak, slow-growth, jobless economy.

Santorum, however, doesn't see the economy as the overriding issue of this election. In the past month, he has said there are "other issues besides the economy," seemingly dismissing its importance in the large scheme of things.

Reporters who regularly cover his campaign say that he rarely talks about the economy and jobs, sticking to the religious and social issues that he feels most comfortable talking about to his socially conservative and evangelical base.

As if to reinforce how he seeks to separate himself from Romney's laser-beam focus on the Obama economy, the former senator told voters this week, "I don't care what the unemployment rate is going to be. It doesn't matter to me."

After Romney jumped on the remark, saying his rival seemed to be dismissing the issue that most voters say is their chief concern, Santorum responded with this weak explanation: "I'm saying my candidacy doesn't hinge on whether the unemployment rate goes up and down."

Santorum's campaign was so worried this week about how his personal opposition to contraceptives was playing among women voters that his wife Karen went on CNN to say: "Women have nothing to fear. When it comes to contraceptives, he will do nothing on that issue."

Meantime, Santorum's campaign also suffers from his complete inability to run a major national campaign organization. This was embarrassingly evident in his failure to meet the delegate filing requirements in many states. Not only did he lose badly in Illinois, but he was ineligible for 10 of its delegates because his campaign had not filed the correct paperwork.

Putting together a well-organized, well-financed national campaign is a key professional prerequisite in the long primary season, and Romney has done that from the ground up. Santorum has been hobbled by a relatively small staff and no state-by-state national campaign apparatus to speak of.

As things stand now, Romney has won half of the GOP delegates he needs to clinch the nomination, and ahead of him is a long line of state primaries where he is favored to do well and that will put him at or over the top.

The Gallup Poll reports that Romney leads Santorum by 11 points in the head-to-head surveys -- and leads the president by 50 to 46 percent. The nomination battle is all but over.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.