Mitt Romney scored a trifecta Tuesday night.
Romney easily won Maryland and Washington D. C. and the former Massachusetts governor won Wisconsin, the only contest in which Santorum actively campaigned. Newt Gingrich barely registered any votes Tuesday, losing to Ron Paul in Wisconsin and D. C. but eking past him in Maryland. Ron Paul himself more than quadrupled his 2008 Wisconsin total, padding his Maryland total by 3000 votes, and jumping from 7% to 12% in D. C.
The significance of the April 3 contests continues to be Romney's slide to inevitability. Every time Romney scores a big win Santorum seems to return with a win in a smaller, rural, socially conservative state. But the cycle continues for Santorum as well. After he wins a state he ought to win, Santorum puts in a full head of steam against Romney only to have it slip away.
The primaries might be summed up this way: Romney wins the states he should and Santorum wins the states he should too but neither have been able to defeat the other in a momentum-changing upset.
But even if this war of attrition continues the tide may be turning Romney's way. George H. W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan have all sounded the same theme: This primary has gone on long enough. And the reaction among Republican voters suggests they are obeying. Voter resignation to Romney only shows that Republicans are more concerned with beating the Democratic president than their purported interest in political philosophy. And among those exit polled, Romney's "electability" seems to have been the highest concern.
Now, Mitt won Maryland and D. C. virtually uncontested. But it's impossible not to notice that whenever he and Santorum go head-to-head in a big, electorally diverse, often blue-collar state, Romney wins. It happened in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and now Wisconsin. The next primaries are on April 24 in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania.
Ordinarily this would be an opportunity for a slumping underdog to change the narrative. But does anyone need to be reminded that the last time Santorum ran in a state-wide election in Pennsylvania he lost by 18 points?
Therefore, Romney is going try to land a knock-out blow against Santorum in his home state.
It's not a guarantee that Santorum will lose against Romney in a closed Republican primary, but losing by any margin in his home state will be humiliating and fan the flames that the former senator needs to leave the race.
Couple that with the fact that two New England states and New York are voting, assuredly going for Romney, so Santorum ought to devote all his time to winning his home state. In addition to staving off a humiliating defeat, Pennsylvania is the only state in the next three weeks where he is even likely to be competitive.
And for those in the Romney camp, this leads to an interesting question: does Romney's victory in the Badger State portend a potential Republican triumph in November?
There was a higher voter turn-out in 2012 than either of the last two contested Wisconsin Republican primaries: 2000 and 2008. But this is a little skewed. In each of the previous two contests the nomination had already been ceded to the eventual nominee. This was the first of the three when the nomination was still in question.
On the one hand this points to Romney's favor. In the 2000 and 2004 general elections George W. Bush narrowly lost both times, by 0.22% to Al Gore and 0.38% to John Kerry respectively.
On the other hand, Obama trounced McCain 56-42 in 2008 after a primary in which over 1.1 million Democrats voted, more than 300,000 more than voted in Tuesday's Republican primary. It's hard to say whether this year's higher-than-usual Republican turn-out is an indicator that Wisconsin is in play for Republicans. It may well hinge on whether Governor Scott Walker survives his June 5 recall election. If he does it may be a good sign for Romney.
But that is for later. The race is not over but with at least 640 delegates, it's beginning to look that way. It just remains to be seen whether Wisconsin helps Romney in the long run.
Regular Columnist, THL
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