The REAL Results of Super Tuesday for the Republicans Was: INCONCLUSIVE
Mar 7th 2012, 6:53 by E.M. | WASHINGTON, DC
SUPER TUESDAY is supposed to be the day when a party’s leading presidential candidate can deliver a fatal blow to his rivals. So it was for the Republicans in 2000 and 2008, at any rate, when George Bush and John McCain cemented their nominations. Yet this year Super Tuesday was a shadow of its former self, in several ways. For one thing, only ten states voted, compared to 21 in 2008. The big day also came later this time around, in March instead of February. And most importantly, it did not deliver the knockout punch that Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner, would have liked.
Mr Romney dominated the night, by any measure. He won six states, including a narrow victory in Ohio, a big bellwether. He also won the most delegates, the true measure of progress towards the nomination. He now has roughly three times the delegates of his closest rival, Rick Santorum, and is almost a third of the way towards the 1,144 delegates needed to prevail.
But Mr Santorum won three states, and came within a percentage point or two of Mr Romney in Ohio. Newt Gingrich, who was once seen as the biggest threat to Mr Romney, won his home state of Georgia, the largest prize of the night. And in Virginia, where only Mr Romney and Ron Paul, the laggard in the field, were on the ballot, Mr Romney still managed to win only 60% of the vote.
Mr Romney continues to struggle with tea-party supporters, evangelicals and voters who describe themselves as “very conservative”, according to exit polls. He also has not yet won any Southern states, bar his limp preeminence in Virginia. In other words, Mr Romney has not yet won over the heart of the Republican Party. And all that is despite outspending Mr Santorum and the others by a huge margin across the board.
Mr Romney’s rivals certainly do not consider the race over. They all gave defiant speeches on the night, trumpeting their achievements and vowing to fight on. Mr Santorum plans to start campaigning immediately in Kansas, which is the next state to vote, over the weekend. Mr Gingrich is on his way to Alabama and Mississippi, which both vote next week. Mr Paul not only says he is staying in the race until the convention, but has also refused to rule out categorically running as an independent.
In previous elections, the weaker candidates would have been forced to drop out by now as their funding dried up. But this time changes in the campaign-finance rules allow rich benefactors to sustain a candidacy more or less single-handedly via supportive super PACs. As long as Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul, is willing to back Mr Gingrich, for example, he is likely to remain in the race.
It still remains hard to see how anyone but Mr Romney can win the nomination. Mr Gingrich has not won any states beyond the South. Mr Paul has not won any at all. Mr Santorum has narrowly lost both his showdowns with Mr Romney, in Michigan last week and now in Ohio. Neither Mr Gingrich nor Mr Santorum had the organisation to get themselves on the ballot in Virginia; Mr Santorum’s team proved incapable of coming up with complete slates of delegates in Ohio. Mr Romney’s strategy of mercilessly lashing his rivals with negative ads has proved particularly effective in big states, such as Florida and Ohio, where elections are won and lost on television. Those states, in turn, bring lots of delegates.
But Mr Romney’s standing with the general electorate is falling as the primary campaign drags on. He used to hold more appeal to independents than Barack Obama, but the latest polls suggest the reverse. Republicans hope that voters will have forgotten the grubbiness of the primary campaign by November—and so they might. But at the very least, the protracted primary is preventing Mr Romney from concentrating his fire on Barack Obama.
Mr Obama, meanwhile, is happily firing up his much admired campaign machine again. He has nine offices in Ohio, with a tenth on its way. In January, his campaign spent more than Mr Romney’s. He, at least, might consider today’s inconclusive results super.