Matthews: Romney-Santorum race will determine direction of GOP

Updated

Let me finish tonight with this.

Ladies and gentlemen, the main bout is about to begin. We’ve been through the preliminary bouts. We’ve met Michele and Herman and the rest of the long-shots. Now it’s come time for the main event of the year: the fight between the long-time heavyweight contender Mitt Romney, fighting out of Belmont, Massachusetts, and Rick Santorum, the light heavyweight from Pittsburgh.

The stakes are huge. The winner goes to Tampa as the presumed Republican nominee. He gets to face Barack Obama in three hour-and-a-half one-on-ones. 

But this fight between Santorum and Romney will decide something else: the immediate future of the Republican party, the meaning of political conservatism in this country.  

I’m looking to Illinois next Tuesday to give us the first big look at the answer. Think of all the Catholics in Chicago who vote Republican. Think of those who live in Chicago and the suburbs.  

Will they go for Santorum in this David and Goliath fight of guts against money? Will they root and then vote for the little guy in this race?  

Or will they go with the former moderate governor of Massachusetts, the guy with a shot to grab the center in the race against Obama and thereby knock him off? 

This much we know from experience: Romney will use his connection and monied backing to put up negative TV ads around the clock. He will engage in the same saturation bombing that he has done everywhere. 

Santorum will fight with what he’s got: hardright religious beliefs and a stick-to-it-ness that puts Romney’s talk of being the “resolute” candidate to shame. Hardly anybody BUT the Santorums thouught he was going to go this far–but he has. 

Count me with those left, right and center who want a good fight, no longer distracted by others who run out of vengeance or vanity or vulgarity. We need a clean fight with a clean winner. Thanks to the thoughtful citizens of Alabama and Mississippi, we’ve got one.

 

From the Hardball blog archive:

Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Hardball Let Me Finish

Matthews: Romney-Santorum race will determine direction of GOP

Updated