By David Anderson
Primary voters, are by definition, a subset of general election voters. It is a subset that is not representative of the general electorate, as primary voters as a practical matter are more politically engaged, more ideological and far fewer. In closed-primary states, they are almost entirely composed of committed partisans and 90% certain to vote for the same party in the general election as they voted for in the primary even if the candidate they preferered in the primary is not their party's general election candidate.
This is true of both Democrats and Republcians. Primary results don't tell us much about the general election as the issue spaces are very different, the electorates are very different, and the competitors are very different.
In 2008, there were numerous Clinton supporters who argued that her primary wins in Ohio and Pennslvania were definative electability argument winners:
The rout in Ohio happened. Obama has a huge electability problem in the state. He took a total of 5 counties, and lost in 82 counties. Even though he's able to rack up a large number of urban black voters he did terrible among white voters, winning just 34 percent...You don't win a general election in Ohio if you can only win in 5 counties....
This type of analysis was wrong because even during the primary season, the overwhelming majority of Clinton primary backers preference orders went something like this Clinton>rest of the Dem field including Obama>Attilla the Hun>Any potential Republican nominee. Moderate and conservative Democrats voted as Democrats in the general election.
The same basic dynamic will most likely be in play for Mitt Romney --- most Republican primary voters have not voted for him. On the whole, they voted for more conservative/reactonary but also more disorganized candidates. The non-Romney Republican primary voters probable preference order today is something like this: Zombie Reagan>Santorum/Gingrich/Paul/> Romney> Zombie Nixon > Obama.
So when a smart blogger like Actor 212 at the Agonist makes the following statement, I cringe:
Indeed, Romney can embarass the hell out of Santorum by taking Pennsylvania. This means two things:
1) It will be the second straight statewide election in his home state that Santorum loses and
B) It takes Santorum out of consideration for the Veep nom. After all, do you want someone on your ticket who can't even guarantee his home state?
Point 1 is relevant, Santorum has been defined as a panty sniffing, free-riding reactionary in Pennsylvania.
He would lose to any vaguely competent Democrat in any statewide race in any year that is even close to politically neutral. His 18 point margin of defeat in 2006 was the result of running as a reactionary asshole into a massive Democratic breeze, but he still would have gone down by 6 to 8 points in a normal year. Pat Toomey, his corporatist soulmate, won a squeaker by 2 points in the most favorable Republican year in a generation. Santorum would not be able to help too much in Pennsylvania in the general election.
However Point B is irrelevent as Santorum's ability or inability to win a home state primary has minimal impact on his ability to win a statewide general election in Pennsylvania.