Romney Fails To Deliver Knockout Punch, Will Still Win Nomination

The race will go on after Super Tuesday, but the outcome seems ineviable

For a good part of last night, it was unclear what kind of night this was going to be for Mitt Romney. Going into the night, it looked like he had a chance to win not only Ohio but also steal Tennessee from Santorum. Fairly early, the networks were able to call Vermont, Massachusetts, and Virginia for Romney, as well as Georgia for Newt Gingrich. None of these were really surprises, though. In Tennessee, the chances for Romney to pass Santorum seemed to dwindle away in the cold light of reality and Santorum ended up winning the state by five points, less than he had been leading there a month ago but more than the most recent polls. Santorum also picked up a somewhat surprising win in the North Dakola Caucuses, although it’s worth noting that this was another one of those caucuses that doesn’t award delegates. Similarly, Romney picked up a win in the Idaho Caucuses which may or may not come with delegates but probably also includes some potatoes.  Jumping ahead in the evening a bit, Romney also won the Alaska Caucuses where the candidate that Sarah Palin had voted for came in fourth place.

The big prize of the night, though, was Ohio. For much of the night, as the returns came in from the rural parts of the state, things were looking pretty dicey for Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum was leading and pundits were talking about the possibility of Romney losing the state. When the numbers started coming in from Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) and Hamilton County (Cinncinnati), tough, Romney pulled ahead and looks to have pulled off a victory, a slim victory but a victory nonetheless:

WASHINGTON — The race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum for the Republican presidential nomination was fought down to the wire in Ohio, and so was the result, with Romney leading by a mere 12,000 votes early today.

But with 99 percent of the vote counted, that lead was certain to hold, and more importantly, so was Romney’s clear victory in amassing delegate

(…)

Romney, regarded as the moderate in the GOP field, has had a hard time convincing the party’s Tea party wing that he is grounded in his beliefs. But he appeared to carry Ohio’s urban areas Tuesday, including Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties and their suburbs.

(…)

Santorum did well in Ohio’s rural areas, and the Ohio secretary of state’s map with returns from Ohio’s 88 counties made clear the urban-rural divide between Romney and Santorum. Early exit polls in Ohio showed Santorum carrying the most conservative voters, including those focused on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage as well as evangelical and born-again Christians, the Associated Press reported. But his efforts to carry blue-collar workers may have fallen short, with Santorum and Romney running about evenly among voters who lack college degrees, the AP said.

As of this morning, with 99.8% of the vote in, Romney is leading Santorum by just over 12,100 votes, a lead that is clearly insurmountable. More importantly, though, it looks like Romney will score a nice delegate pickup out of his Ohio victory, which is what really matters at this point.

Despite his Ohio win, though, Mitt Romney was denied the one thing that his campaign clearly wanted, a knockout punch against his opponents and the effective end to this race. If he’d picked up Tennessee and scored a more decisive victory in Ohio, then it would have been hard for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich to make a credible case for their campaigns to continue. Now, though, both Santorum and Gingrich have victories in southern states under their belt, and next week they head into primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, along with a caucus in Hawaii. There has not been any polling in either of the primary states, but it’s logical to assume that they are going to be far more hospitable to Santorum and Gingrich than they will to Romney. This coming Saturday, there’s also a caucus in Kansas, which is also unlikely to be Romney Country. After that, there’s a caucus in Missouri where Rick Santorum scored a massive victory in last month’s non-binding primary. Looking at things realistically, March doesn’t look friendly to Romney until March 24th when Illinois holds its primary. Even then, the race is going to have to drag into April unless Romney wins Illinois so convincingly that he scares everyone else out of the race. That means that we’re looking at three more weeks, at least, of headlines in which the story is about the guys challenging Romney.

Some of the evaluations of what happened last night are about what you’d expect. David Frum, for example is perplexed about why it’s taking Republican rank-and-file voters to get behind the former Massachusetts Governor:

Has the Republican Party gone on strike?

Tonight’s message: Outside the Federalist heartland and the peculiar Virginia ballot, Republicans won’t accept Mitt Romney. Against such a weak field, for Romney to be battling to carry Ohio is deeply, deeply ominous.

(…)

The donors all made up their minds months ago. The rank-and-file are refusing.

Jim Geraghty seeks dark clouds on the horizon for Romney, and a return to a topic we’ve heard before:

After last week’s big wins in Michigan and Arizona, we were supposed to see signs of the party starting to unify around Romney. Instead, the frontrunner has a problem with the Midwest and South that is keeping him at less than 3 in 10 right now. That was good enough for second place in most of these states, but that’s still setting a low bar – beat out Ron Paul and in most cases, Newt, who is becoming an afterthought. (More on this below.) Sure, Romney had a great night in terms of delegates. I stand by my assessment that his road to the nomination is the hardest, except for all of the others. But he’s still got glaring weaknesses in connecting with people. Maybe it’s the Mormon issue. Maybe it’s his background. But I think the “brokered convention yields a surprise nominee” talk just got a new jolt of energy this morning.

I suggested one reason for the reluctance of the base to coalesce around Romney last night, and if it’s true then there’s not much he can do about it without damaging his General Election prospects. At the same time, though, I continue to find all this talk about a brokered convention where the party ends up picking a nominee that is not one of the people running at this moment to be largely silly. That may have worked in 1924, it’s not going to work today with the glare of the 365/24/7 media. It’s still possible that we’ll see a contested convention, where none of the candidates go into Tampa with the majority needed to win on the First Ballot but even here the most likely outcome is that a deal gets made before any votes get taken just as it was in 1976. While it may be a political junkies dream, the last thing the GOP wants is a floor fight at the convention and they’ll do everything they can to stop it.

Despite all of this hand-wringing, though, the reality is that last night made Mitt Romney’s inevitability even more certain. NBC News’s Political Director Chuck Todd pointed out this morning on Morning Joe that Rick Santorum would have to win 61% of all the remaining delegates in order to win the nomination. If Romney actually wins several Northeaster states outright, which seems likely, Santorum’s would need to win 67% of the remaining delegates and, if Romney gains the lions share of the small number of Republican “Superdelegates,” then Santorum would need to win 71% of the remaining delegates. Romney, on the other hand, would have to win 45% of the remaining delegates. To date, Mitt Romney has won  55.85% (415) of the  (743) delegates up for grabs. When you look ahead into April, and even May, there are many big delegate states that would likely be favorable to Romney that will be up for grabs, two of the biggest being California and New York. Unless Mitt Romney’s campaign utterly collapses, which seems unlikely, the odds are fairly good that he’ll be able to grab the delegates he needs to win the nomination outright. The odds of Santorum doing the same, or even coming close enough to be competitive at the convention are very slim to say the least.

All of this causes Stephen Green to say that it’s time for the right to admit that the game is over and that Romney will be the nominee:

I don’t like Mitt Romney. Given the choice between Romney and nothing, to turn the old adage upside-down, I’d take nothing. But in politics “nothing” isn’t one of the choices.

Correction: You can vote for nothing, but then worse-than-nothing wins by default.

So keep that in mind when I call on Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to surrender gracefully tonight, and to pledge their delegates to… this isn’t easy for me to say… to pledge their delegates to Romney.

Santorum has proven he can win — just barely — in states the GOP is likely to take in November regardless. Newt has proven that he can win his home state, and the one state that hates Mitt Romney almost as much as it hates Barack Obama. And I’ll miss Newt — I really will. I want to see his Old Media Crusade go on and on.

(…)

Before Super Tuesday, Romney had more delegates than Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum combined. So, not only does “Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum” sound like the world’s worst folk group, together they can’t even beat Mitt Effing Romney. After Super Tuesday, that math will not have changed very much.

If anything, the math has gotten worse for all of them. Perhaps if there were another “moderate” candidate in the race taking support away from Romney things would be different, but that’s not what’s happening here. Slowly but surely, Mitt Romney is pulling together the delegates he needs to win the nomination. All else is theater.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    All else is theater.

    And bad theater at that. Any chance I can get a refund?




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  2. MBunge says:

    1. Romney could have a heart attack or get hit by a meteor, so the idea that the other candidates should just give up is not only silly (because its never going to happen), it’s actually foolish.

    2. Romney has been outspending his opponents 10 to 1 and has the support of the overwhelming majority of the GOP establishment, yet he still struggles against 3 candidates widely regarded as jokes. What folks like Stephen Green need to be thinking about is what’s going to happen when Romney doesn’t have either of those advantages.

    Mike




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  3. Do I have this right Doug You would vote Romney over Obama instead of not voting at all? If so I do not get it. Obama may not be your favorite person, but you have to admit he is going to be the best man in this race.If Republicans do not send a message that these kind of people do not represent them maybe they will get a grip and run saner people. They also need to convince many independents and that is going to be very tough.If they do not learn this time around I don`t see a big change in 2016 either.




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  4. Barb, I don’t “have to” admit anything really. Also, the post isn’t about who I would vote for it’s about the state of the race.




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  5. Scott F. says:

    Doug –

    the last thing the GOP wants is a floor fight at the convention and they’ll do everything they can to stop it

    Though I agree, I am less sure of both these things than I was three months ago. The GOP has shown a willingness to pursue politically damaging tactics (the contraception fight and the debt ceiling debacle come to mind) and may see drama at their convention as a way to generate enthusiasm where there is none now. Also, “everything” the GOP establishment can do may not be enough to stop what the base wants to have happen.




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  6. Ron Beasley says:

    Charles Pierce sums up Romney’s problem:

    Not to mention the fact that there remains a substantial amount of Republican voters who would rather remove their spleens with a melon baller than vote for Willard Romney for anything.




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  7. Tillman says:

    Romney has been outspending his opponents 10 to 1 and has the support of the overwhelming majority of the GOP establishment, yet he still struggles against 3 candidates widely regarded as jokes.

    The election is Obama’s to lose, really.




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  8. Peacewood says:

    Oddly, Romney’s current position places him within striking distance of being elected.

    Sure, he won’t win any Deep South states, but those states would vote in Jack Kennedy’s dead corpse over Obama, so no loss there. And the candidates that are acceptable to those folks would pretty much throw the swing states to Obama, making it a cakewalk.

    As long as he puts a moderate and personable candidate in the VP slot, and as long as he moves his rhetoric to the center in the general, he’s got a shot at the swing states. Sure the South will grumble, but what choice have they? Does anyone really believe enough people would stay home to throw freakin’ Alabama to Obama (or any similar state for that matter)?

    The only open question remaining, then, is whether Romney actually does put the right candidate in the VP slot and tune his rhetoric. He may be unable to…




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  9. MBunge says:

    @Peacewood: “The only open question remaining, then, is whether Romney actually does put the right candidate in the VP slot and tune his rhetoric. He may be unable to…”

    The thing you’re overlooking is that there will be another candidate in the general election who is massively more popular than anyone Romney’s faced so far and who will not be prevented from attacking Romney at his weakest points by GOP orthodoxy.

    Mike




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  10. Tillman says:

    @Peacewood:

    Sure the South will grumble, but what choice have they? Does anyone really believe enough people would stay home to throw freakin’ Alabama to Obama (or any similar state for that matter)?

    It’s not Alabama and similar that Romney needs to win. They are reliably Republican, and loss of turnout won’t affect their contribution. It’s the purple states that Romney will have a hard sell in. He doesn’t excite anyone, so he’s only going to get activists and diehards in those states. The rest? “Eh, there’ll be another election, I’ve got crap to do.”




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  11. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The fat lady sung. Her voice cracked.

    Peacewood is right on the money. Romney is a much better general election candidate than a GOP primary candidate. Romney’s struggles in the Deep South are a red herring. Susan Collins would beat Obama in 2012 in the likes of Georgia and Alabama. The real issue in this election is whether Romney can win Florida (which is not a Southern demographic) and whether Romney can pull enough Reagan Democrats and Independents to win the likes of Ohio, for which the general election demographic is worlds apart from its primary demographic.

    Romney absolutely needs to tap a strategically-sound Veep. In addition to being personable they need to bring something to the ticket for the Electoral College. Rob Portman. Bob McDonnell. Marco Rubio. Mike Rogers. Tim Pawlenty. I probably missed a couple, but not too many. If Romney plays it cute and goes for Nikki Haley he’ll be making a huge mistake. If he picks someone from a tiny state that couldn’t realistically affect the outcome (Thune, Sandoval, Martinez) he’ll be making a giant mistake. Ultimately it might not matter in any event. Obama could flame out and win only 41% of the white vote and yet still win reelection.




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  12. Neil Hudelson says:

    I’m beginning to think that there is a deliberate conspiracy to so damage Romney going into the election, that when he does lose the party will HAVE to nominate a ‘conservative’ in 2016.




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  13. PD Shaw says:

    Romney was the only candidate last night to win delegates in each contest.

    Gingrich can’t win outside the deep south;
    Santorum can’t win any contest where a majority of the voters are not evangelicals;
    Paul can’t win any state.

    The national candidate always wins over the specialists.




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  14. Ben Wolf says:

    Perhaphs i’ve missed it, but where did Doug write he’s leaning toward Romney in the general election?




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  15. Herb says:

    @Peacewood: “As long as he puts a moderate and personable candidate in the VP slot, and as long as he moves his rhetoric to the center in the general, he’s got a shot at the swing states. ”

    Those are quite a few “as long as” things Romney has to do, and it’s not at all clear his campaign intends to do them. Instead they seem to be using a different “as long as” list.

    As long as I spend 10 times more money than my opponents….

    As long as I mention my faith but not my religion….

    As long as I tell them what they want to hear….

    I think Romney’s got the nomination, but he has no real chance to win the election. The enthusiasm among GOP voters –the same voters Romney needs to have in the bag before going after the swing vote– is just not there.




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  16. An Interested Party says:

    Once again, as in previous GOP primaries, last night’s winner is the President…




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  17. PD Shaw says:

    @Ben Wolf: Doug’s never said who he would vote for; its a long-standing complaint that his posts are part of an unstated pro-Romney agenda. Joyner has written than he is a Romney leaner.




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  18. anjin-san says:

    Romney Fails To Deliver Knockout Punch

    Romney is more of a slapper than a puncher…




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  19. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Peacewood:

    As long as he puts a moderate and personable candidate in the VP slot, and as long as he moves his rhetoric to the center in the general, he’s got a shot at the swing states.

    The flaw in all this of course is that he’s had to swing so far to the right to capture the nomination and it’s all captured on tape and the only way he swings back to the center is by denying all this. Yet more flip flops? Sure a monkey on a stick with R on it’s forehead would win Alabama but that’s not where the election is going to be decided and in the last poll from Marist on OH I saw, Obama was leading Romney by 12 points.




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  20. Ben Wolf says:

    @PD Shaw: That’s what I thought. Thanks.




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  21. Nightrider says:

    Sure a key home state would be great, but doesn’t Romney need to solidify on the Christian, conservative, likable, excite-the-base real-person front? Is there a safe media-tested person better for that than Mike Huckabee?




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  22. Peacewood says:

    @anjin-san:

    Romney is more of a slapper than a puncher…

    He would’ve been a boxer, but it ran away on him.




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  23. Brummagem Joe says:

    Even more terrifying for the Republican Party, Romney appears incapable of capturing the large margins among white working-class voters that Republican candidates need in order to win a general election. In a just-released NBC poll, Romney’s margin among these voters was a mere 5 points, far less than McCain’s 18-point margin in 2008 and less still than the 25 points or more Romney probably would need in order to win, given the United States’ shifting demographics.




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  24. Steve P says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Figure of speech there, Doug…”have to admit”. A bit of rhetoric and a bit of truth.




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