Battered and Bruised
March 7th, 2012
Romney hangs in there again like a punch-drunk fighter staggering toward the finish of the sixth round (ooh look at me, I’m using a sports metaphor), picking up wins in six of the states up for grabs yesterday including a very hotly contested Ohio, where Santorum very nearly pulled off an upset. Romney did best in his home state of Massachusetts, and he did well in neighboring Vermont. He also did very well in the Idaho caucuses, where 23% of spudsters are fellow Mormons. There were no exit polls in Idaho, but in Arizona where Mormons made up 14% of the vote, they broke 96-4 for Romney on Feb 28.
Romney also did very well where he had very little actual competitors (Virginia, where Santorum and Gingrich weren’t on the ballot). Which is to say that he has done very well where he had the home field advantage (as did Gingrich) or where his most potent opponent was missing. Or Alaska.
Which goes to day that Romney is still having trouble closing the deal with Santorum racking up rack up wins in the more conservative middle bits of the continent. In Oklahoma, Santorum’s first place finish came in spite of Sen. Tom Coburn’s endorsement of Romney, while Romney actually came in third in North Dakota and just barely avoided that same fate in Oklahoma. And in Ohio, where Romney poured massive amounts of dollars into the race, he only managed to pull out a 1% win over Santorum in the bellwether state. But even there, he he lost among Evangelical, blue collar and rural voters, but won among those who were 50 and older.
But here’s the stat I find most telling: When Ohio voters were asked whether they’d support Romney in the general election regardless of who they voted for in the primary, 36% said they would not be satisfied with a Romney candidacy, versus 33% who said they’d reject a Santorum candidacy. In other words, Ohio Republicans are less willing to settle for Romney than Santorum.
But this is a race for delegates, not popular votes. And whatever weaknesses that exist in Romney’s popular support within the GOP, he’s still by far the frontrunner in the delegate race according to CNN’s count, with more delegates than his opponents combined. But at only about half way through the primaries, Romney’s still a long way from the 1,144 needed to secure the nomination. Kansas, US Virgin Islands and Guam hold caucuses next week, followed by primaries in Alabama, Mississippi and Hawaii the week after that. Which means that for Romney, the long slog continues. But for the other candidates in the field, the slog is even longer.
The idea behind Super Tuesday was to bring the nomination process into clearer focus. The only thing made clear yesterday is that GOP voters would still prefer another candidates. But that’s not the choice available to them. Which means that Romney will almost certainly be the nominee when all is said and done, but what is said and done before then will continue to be the story. As Ezra Klein at the Washington Post put it, “For three guys who profess to not like the media very much, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich are really making all our dreams of a long, unpredictable primary come true.”