Last night, Mitt Romney won the majority of the primaries and caucuses held last night, but not the momentum and the battle for narrative.
(Here the blogger puts on an asbestos suit.)
Romney won narrowly in Ohio and Alaska. (more on that later.) He won Virginia by default due to Gingrich and Santorum not making it on the ballot, and embarrassingly still finished under 60%. He won his home Massachusetts as well as Idaho by convincing margins. Even in Idaho, it’s worth noting that Romney lost every county North of Lemhi County to either Paul or Santorum. The strength of Romney’s numbers comes from places like Pocatello and Twin Falls with their high LDS population.
Romney won Vermont, but but with a surprisingly low margin. He finished just under 40% at 39.8% with Mr. Paul at 25% and Mr. Santorum hot on his heels at 24%. If Romney should win a majority anywhere, it’d be in New England. Instead, Rick Santorum gets three delegates out of Vermont as does Paul.
I know this analysis exasperates Mr. Romney’s supporters. After all, doesn’t winning count for something? There’s a difference between winning and uniting the party. If you look back to 2008, you saw John McCain win in places that moderates would struggle in such as Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. He also won big winner-take-all states such as California and New York by significant margins.
In 2000 on Super Tuesday, you saw George W. Bush do the same thing, winning a decisive 26-point victory in California, an 8-point victory New York, and taking Maine to stop McCain from sweeping New England.
In 1996, Bob Dole swept every State on Super Tuesday, he swept every state the week before on Junior Tuesday, and the only contest he lost during that period was a Saturday Caucus held in Missouri.
In GOP primary history, Super Tuesday is a time, not when candidates take slightly more states than their rivals, but when the party begins to unite behind a frontrunner and states not disposed to the frontrunner, swallow hard to help unite the party, and big state Republicans vote overwhelmingly to the same end. That simply didn’t happen on Tuesday for Mitt Romney.
Santorum was supposed to be wiped off the map, and to lose all but maybe one state. Instead, he emerged strong and with three wins and a solid second everywhere other than Vermont or Georgia.
His campaign has a great David and Goliath narrative going for it, and that itself is attractive to voters. Unfortunately for backers of Mitt Romney, they’re cheering for Goliath in this fight and that’s not where most people are. Romney keeps outspending Santorum by margins like 6:1, and 4:1. I even heard 12:1 cited for Ohio with negative trashing Santorum, but Santorum keeps fighting back. The situation reminds me of a quote by Apollo Creed’s manager in Rocky II when talking to Apollo about a rematch with Rocky, “ I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man get beat before, and the man kept coming after you. Now we don’t need no man like that in our lives. ”
A sentiment many Romney supporters, no doubt, share.
Of course, if this is a two man race, then there’s the whole issue of Newt Gingrich. Mitt Romney owes Newt Gingrich big time, because without Gingrich’s presence in the race, Romney would have lost in two additional states: Ohio and Alaska.
I cringe at analysts who will take two candidates numbers and add them together and state that’s the total, the more popular would have gotten. Counting on much more than 60% to two third of a candidate’s vote to go one way or another is really too much. So, I don’t blame Santorum’s Michigan three point loss on Gingrich’s 7% total.
However, in Ohio, Romney won by only 1 percent, Gingrich won 15% of the vote. Even if Gingrich supporters would only have gone for Santorum by a marginal total, that would have made the difference. Similarly, Romney’s narrow 32-29% win in Alaska would probably not have happened if not for Gingrich snagging 1 in 7 Alaska votes thanks to the public endorsement of the first dude and they passive support of Sarah Palin.
Some Santorum backers have called for Gingrich’s withdrawal while the campaign itself is suggesting to tea party and conservative leaders that it’s a bad idea to keep splitting the anti-Romney conservative vote. Newt supporters are quick to point out that Newt suggested Santorum drop out back in Florida and that Santorum didn’t listen. The difference is that in Florida, only three contests had been completed, one of which Santorum won. Now, we’ve had twenty-two contests, Santorum won 7 and Newt has won 2. We can see patterns emerging. Excluding his home state win, Newt hasn’t even finished second anywhere since February 4th when he came in a distant second in Nevada behind Mitt Romney. Since then, he’s finished third five times and in dead last behind Ron Paul nine times. Newt’s campaign running out of money and momentum.
Of course, words and logic won’t persuade Newt. Votes might. Santorum will have to work hard to win Mississippi and Alabama next week. If he does that, it’s going to be hard for Gingrich to stay in the race. After all, what good can a candidate with a Southern Strategy do if he can’t win the South outside of his home state.