Romney backer: Brokered convention would be chaos

Vin Weber
John Dickerson talks to Republican strategist and former Congressman Vin Weber for the March 14th edition of Face to Face.

(CBS NEWS) After finishing third in key Southern state primaries yesterday, Mitt Romney's campaign is putting a positive spin on the results - winning enough delegates in Alabama and Mississippi coupled with wins in Hawaii and American Samoa to capture the most delegates of any candidate for the night.

"It actually wasn't as bad as the morning-after analysis for Romney," said Romney backer and veteran Republican strategist Vin Weber.

"I think Romney actually showed that he can compete in the South for votes. I don't think there's a problem going forward in terms of electability, but we are clearly now in a delegate fight and Republicans need to think about the implications of that," said the 8-term former congressman from Minnesota.

The implications of the delegate fight is clearly a new Romney campaign selling point, trying to convince voters that the drawn out process only hurts the party.

"What Santorum is saying to us, and Gingrich even more explicitly, is that their strategy is to take this all the way to the convention. They don't have another strategy to win. They basically admit that. So the Republicans have to think about what it would mean for the first time at least since 1976 to not have a nominee until basically September," said Weber.

And what he means is that a contested convention would be chaos, leaving the Republicans bruised from a long battle fought on and off the convention floor - and leaving the party in a bad position to fight President Obama whose own nominating convention will be a "beautifully orchestrated communications" events selling the country on another Obama term.

"If the Republican convention is a mish mash of conspiracy theories and backroom dealings and competition back and forth and we wake up the morning after we've nominated a candidate and then have to start the campaign against Obama, we're going to start out in a deep, deep hole," Weber told CBS News Political Director John Dickerson in an interview for Face to Face.

Speaking of the competition to former Massachusetts Governor Romney, Weber took a swipe at the winner of last night's primaries, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, touching on what many Romney aides have pointed out, that a lack of a campaign structure means Santorum can't win.

"Rick Santorum has a story line going that says that he's the only one that touches the heart and soul of the Republicans. He basically has no campaign. I mean that's what people, Republicans need to understand this. There really isn't a Santorum campaign. There's a candidate running from state to state trying to make this emotional appeal, and it's working with some people. It certainly will not beat President Obama in the fall," said Weber.

And then there's former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is pushing onward after two somewhat disappointing second place finishes and is currently third in the delegate tally, pledging to take his campaign all the way to the Tampa convention, despite calls from many on the right to drop out and get behind Santorum.

"The thing I'd argue with my friend Newt about is his explicit statement that he wants this to go to a convention. I understand why he thinks that, he is a historian, that would be a historic event, probably a historic disaster for the Republican party, but a historic event. But it's not a good one," said Weber.

He added that Gingrich's own sense of history and legacy should convince him that a brokered convention is not good for the party.

"His whole legacy as a political leader and it's a great legacy is as somebody who has brought the Republican party great success and great victory: Taking over the House of Representatives in 40 years. He does not want to tarnish that by being the guy that costs us the White House."

Video: Weber says Santorum, Gingrich can't win, should put party first

In the end, Weber predicts that Romney, who's best appeal to voters is the man with the experience to fix the economy, will have the delegates needed to wrap up the Republican nomination in May or June. Clearly speaking to Republicans who are swayed by Santorum and Gingrich's conservative message and not by Romney's electability argument, Weber says the longer the process goes on, the worse off the party's chances will be of beating President Obama.

"But the point I make is there's a very big difference between saying okay we're going to go through the primaries and then have a nominee, and saying we're going to go through the primaries and then not have a nominee until we go two months later to the convention in Florida. That would be a real problem," he said.

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    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.