Super Tuesday turned out to be one of the best and worst nights on the campaign trail for the former governor and Republican presidential nominee front-runner Mitt Romney. He scored wins in six of the ten states up for grabs, nabbing more than half of the delegates at stake, but failed to deliver the decisive blow to his opponents that would cause them to drop out and leave him the presumptive nominee. Romney’s inability to seal the deal continues to fuel the narrative that the GOP is not excited about him as a candidate and will continue to look elsewhere before committing to him. At this point, however, it may be too late for him to care.
The night started with a Newt Gingrich win in his home state of Georgia. It was hardly unexpected, but having not won since South Carolina it’s possible this gives Gingrich new life as he can claim two major southern victories with primaries in Alabama and Mississippi coming up next week. Romney captured Massachusetts, the state he once served as governor, and neighboring Vermont. He also won in Virginia, but it was a two man race between himself and Ron Paul, as Gingrich and Rick Santorum failed to make the ballot.
The bulk of Romney’s wins come with such caveats, as in Idaho where a large Mormon population helped push him over the edge. In Ohio, the tough battleground state, he managed a slim margin of victory over Santorum and won delegates in the state in part due to the Santorum campaign’s lack of organization and failure to register properly.
Speaking of Santorum, despite his lack of infrastructure, cash, and preparedness, he had a big night that will likely keep him in the race for much longer than anyone would have guessed last fall. Aside from the close second place finish in Ohio, Santorum picked up wins in North Dakota, Oklahoma, and somewhat surprisingly in Tennessee, where early predictions had the state being easily won by Romney. It wasn’t enough to make him competitive in the race for delegates, but just enough that he has a case for keeping his campaign going.
This is precisely what haunts the Romney campaign. Mathematically speaking, if Romney were to maintain his current rate of delegate accumulation, he should become the nominee, albeit later than most would have predicted. But he’ll do so having stumbled along and losing to what are generally regarded as second tier politicians, too disorganized and incompetent to win the party nomination and so ideologically out of sync with mainstream America to pose a threat in the general election. Yet, Romney has struggled to gain any real momentum and the narrative continues to build that build that his party is embracing him reluctantly, in some ways resigning the 2012 election in hopes of fielding a stronger candidate in 2016, a non-incumbent year.
There isn’t much he can do to change the perception of himself or his campaign at this stage of the process, so Romney will simply have to accept winning with mild support. The only hope for those who wish to see anyone but Romney is for either Santorum or Gingrich to drop out of the race before the week is over and consolidate the conservative vote going forward and increase the delegate count for one or the other. This isn’t a likely scenario, and it still wouldn’t guarantee a win for either of the more socially conservative candidates. All signs point to where they always have, a Romney/Obama matchup come November, whether Republicans tolerate it or not.