Mitt Romney comes out yesterday’s important Super Tuesday elections the same way that he went in — a weak Republican frontrunner up against three weaker, but alarmingly resilient, primary opponents. After weeks of divisive inter-party fighting, Romney was looking to Super Tuesday to deliver sweeping victories that would finally wrap up the race and give him a lock on the Republican nomination.
But Romney’s breakout moment never came last night. Sure, Romney won the majority of the delegates, and edged out Rick Santorum in the critical Ohio primary, but he also failed to kill off any of his tormentor-opponents. His big first-place finishes last night, in Massachusetts, Vermont, Idaho, and Virginia, were unsurprising and largely attributed to his geographical/religious advantage and to the fact that he and Ron Paul were the only candidates on the ticket in Virginia.
But Romney’s Super Tuesday wins did make it clear that no other GOP candidates has a shot at winning the nomination. Newt Gingrich’s success was limited to his home-state, Paul failed to deliver in the caucus contests, and even Santorum couldn’t pull it together to qualify for delegates in some places.
The problem for Romney now is not whether he will lose — it’s whether he can win.
Exit polls from the remaining states show Romney still has a lot of trouble connecting to “very conservative” Republicans, Tea Partiers, blue-collar voters, and evangelicals — the bread-and-butter of the GOP base. The numbers suggest that as long as one of Romney’s rivals remains in the race, he will be able to deprive the frontrunner of the state majorities he needs to win the GOP nod.
Typically, struggling candidates eventually drop out primaries. But changes in the delegate rules and the emergence of SuperPAC insta-funding have provided also-ran candidates with an opportunity to stay in the race as spoilers, even if they are not viable contenders in their own right. Add to that the fact that Romney’s 2012 opponents are political cast-offs with virtually nothing to lose — and quite a bit to gain — from staying in the fight, and it is clear that Mitt is in for a long primary slog.
The next round of primary contests won’t do much to help hasten Romney’s road to the nomination. The former Massachusetts Governor will be up against his toughest demographics next week, with Kansas, Arkansas, and Mississippi hosting primary contests. That basically guarantees that the race will drag on through the April 24th primaries in New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, and possibly even past then.
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