Newt Gingrich won Georgia and nothing else. Santorum won the other southern state, Tennessee, and the rural states, Oklahoma and North Dakota. Romney won the Mormon (Idaho), home (Massachusetts and Vermont), DC area (Virginia), and bellwether (Ohio). And Ron Paul won a few delegates.
Santorum and his media allies are going to take their first place finishes and their near-miss in Ohio to emphasize that Romney is a weak front-runner. That the man who outspent us 12 to 1 should have crushed us and should have wrapped up the nomination by now if he was so unstoppable.
Romney’s inevitability is not due to his sheer invincibility but to a weak and divided opposition. It is also largely due to the new primary format that is much more proportional than before. According to Real Clear Politics, Romney has at least 354 delegates. For him to have wrapped up the nomination by now he would have to have won literally every single delegate since voting started. That’s almost one-third of the way to the nomination and a pretty good overall showing considering the logistics. But we’re also likely to keep hearing this narrative about Romney’s supposed inevitability because that will at least keep this race interesting.
The only possible shift in the dynamics will be whether Gingrich finally leaves the race. A candidate who could only win his home state and a neighboring state should have the sense to get out. However, this relies on the assumption that Newt Gingrich has sense.
Ron Paul did have a nice night. As Daniel Larison points out at The American Conservative, Paul exceeded his 2008 totals in several states. He still won some delegates but it’s going to be another tough swallow because it was another primary night without a state-wide win. Paul has focused his campaign on small caucus states but it hasn’t exactly panned out. He did well enough to nearly win Iowa and Maine with this strategy and he tried the same on Super Tuesday by going after the three caucus states of North Dakota, Idaho, and Alaska. He was never very close in North Dakota and Idaho’s large Mormon population made for an uphill battle. There was hope Alaska might swing for Paul. After all, it was a state that went for Pat Buchanan in 1996 and elected an unknown and uncorrupted Sarah Palin to the governor’s mansion. However, it also made the late Ted Stevens the longest-serving Republican senator in history and the posterboy for earmark abuse.
Delegates are the name of the game and Paul is slowly but surely adding to his total, but winning a state is what people notice. With Santorum’s failure to have enough delegates ready in Ohio even before they voted it wouldn’t have mattered delegate-wise whether he won the state. Romney was likely to walk away with more Buckeye delegates regardless of the outcome.
But if Santorum had won the popular vote and “won” Ohio, it would have been helpful for him moving forward. Since he didn’t it’s another narrow win for Romney and the narrative is the same in Ohio as in Michigan: Santorum will get plenty of delegates but he blew a lead in the polls to Romney for a second consecutive week. The Massachusetts Man may be a weak front-runner, but Santorum can’t close the deal.
The same goes for Ron Paul. Entering Tuesday he actually had a slight delegate lead over Gingrich according to Real Clear Politics. Gingrich’s Georgia win alters that but it doesn’t change the perception that Paul hasn’t “won” anything. Republicans claim to care about philosophy and ideology, but they care more about pragmatism and backing someone who can win.
The Republican Party in 2012 is more receptive to Ron Paul and his ideas than it was in 2008, and although there is still much vexing over his foreign policy, at this point in the process, Republican primary voters care little about philosophical integrity and more about electoral viability. They want somebody that can win.
Regular Columnist, THL
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