As much as I hate everything Santorum stands for, no one fills me with as much inner revulsion as Romney does.—
David Atkins (@DavidOAtkins) March 07, 2012
I presumed that if Romney squeezed through in Ohio (which he did, just – full results here) then everyone would call this thing a day. But apparently not. The margin of victory over Santorum in that crucial swing state was so small, and Romney’s ability to attract conservatives and evangelicals still so weak, that the questions are likely to linger for at least a little longer. And if Newt put his ego to one side and let Santorum take Romney on alone, the race would be quite something. It looks like commentators have a consensus on this.
Romney lost Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota to Santorum, even after his advisors were suggesting a Tennessee win was possible, and would prove their man could carry the South. Even where he won, it wasn’t pretty – Ron Paul got 41 percent of the votes in Virginia, where Newt Gingrich and Santorum weren’t even on the ballot. Romney decisively carried Massachusetts – his actual home state – and Idaho, where the electorate is heavily Mormon, indicating he’s able to win states with a lot of Mormons and states that he’s claimed as home, and not much else.
Santorum’s victories in Tennessee and Oklahoma not only will pump new life into the Pennsylvanian’s campaign, the results also reinforce Romney’s problems with conservatives. Rather than spending tomorrow talking about Romney’s inevitability, the discussion may be more about his continued difficult in closing the deal with his own party’s base.
Santorum won three states and basically tied in Ohio. That keeps him afloat with some forward direction, especially given the upcoming primary states where Santorum has a demographic edge. The fact that he did this well despite being buried by Romney ads and money in Ohio is a real achievement. Romney, for his part, still cannot win blue-collar votes and still cannot nail down evangelical support. He comes away with many more delegates, but few bragging rights. In Ohio, he won everywhere Obama will win in the fall.
If Newt bowed out, we might have a real cotest. But he won’t. So we have, perhaps, the worst of all possible worlds for the GOP: a front-runner who cannot be stopped, but who is losing altitude against Obama with every vote, and being slimed by Republican rivals for at least another month. Even his stump speech has deteriorated. And his unfavorables continue a relentless rise.
As does Jones:
Romney will have to endure at least another seven weeks of primary warfare, and even longer if he fails to land that ‘knockout blow’ in the five primaries (including New York and Pennsylvania) on 24 April. The happiest campaign team this morning will no doubt be the Obama one.
Frum also notes that despite grabbing delegates, Romney faces a serious amount of apathy:
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.
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.
Bernstein offers a reality check and a different emphasis:
[T]he bottom line is that he won the most states, the most votes and the most delegates; he has overall won the most states, votes and delegates; and he has a solid lead in national polls, money and endorsements. It’s not just that no one has ever lost a nomination after building this kind of lead; it’s that no one, since the modern system was fully in place in the 1980s, has ever come close to losing after building this kind of lead. So it goes on, but for all the fun of close vote counts in the occasional state, there’s really not very much suspense here.
Unless Newt Gingrich drops out quickly and endorses Santorum—not much chance of that: see below—it remains virtually impossible to see how Mitt can be denied the nomination. But, oh, what a painful victory march it is turning into.