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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

No End in Sight

Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum
Ezra Klein calls last night's primary contest in Michigan a "win that made Romney look weak." In delegate math, a win is a win and Team Romney's probably happy to take it, but I've written before about polls influencing polls. The candidate is losing his electability argument and last night's performance didn't do much to revive it. If people are looking for a candidate who can win, he didn't inspire confidence. His weak win in one race may affect voters in later ones. This morning, much of the punditry are taking the "he didn't lose" point of view, rather than the "Romney won" side. He's not the winner of last night's primaries, he's the survivor. And Romney didn't help himself much on that point in his victory speech, as Klein points out:

...Romney was right in his victory speech. “We didn’t win by a lot, but we won by enough and that’s all that counts,” he said. His advisers might have preferred if he'd omitted that unusually honest look into the dynamics of the campaign. But Romney did win by enough. He remains the frontrunner. He remains strong enough to dissuade any new entrants. Which means the status quo continues. Romney vs. Santorum. The Republican Party will continue to have nowhere else to turn and independent voters will continue to see a side of Romney they don't much like. You can argue that Michigan produced three kinds of winners last night. Romney, who didn't lose. Santorum, who almost won. And the Obama campaign, which gets to sit back and watch this primary go on for that much longer.

And "that much longer" means beyond Super Tuesday. If anyone drops out of the race after then, it'll probably be Ron Paul (or maybe Gingrich -- more on that later), since he probably won't win any states. And it may not be a big Romney night, either. He's heading for a huge landslide in Massachusetts and a sizable win in Vermont (the RealClearPolitics polling average in those states is +48 and +19 respectively), but other candidates are looking at big wins too. Ten states are up that night and RCP has polling averages for six. Of that six, Mitt takes two.


A big prize is Ohio and Santorum is currently the leader there (+8.3). Ohio is seen as a general election bellwether and has a lot of delegates, so it's one of the night's bigger victories. Rick also has Oklahoma pretty much in the bag (+20.5). Tennessee looks confusing, with just two polls with very different results. A PPP poll in the field 2/9 - 2/13 shows a Romney/Santorum tie, but a Vanderbilt University/Tennessean poll taken 2/16 - 2/22 gives Santorum a big 18 point lead. That would be a big spike for Santorum there and, while unusual, it's not direct disagreement. The two were in the field on different dates, so it's entirely possible that they're both accurate.

Right now, Gingrich leads in his home state of Georgia (+9). He's made some noise about winning Texas, which may just be Gringrichian bluster. But if you take him at his word, he won't be bowing out after that Super Tuesday high note. Still, you never know. Santorum owns Texas right now, with Newt a distant second. If he's counting on that big delegate score, he may be headed for disappointment. But it's not until April, so there's conceivably time to turn it around. Either way, Georgia is another big score, having the highest delegate count.

So, all in all, we see that Super Tuesday isn't going to be the end point. CNN's Peter Hamby reports that "the mechanics of the 2012 Republican race are beginning to resemble those of the 2008 Democratic nomination fight, a grind-it-out battle for delegates that could last through well into the spring," i.e., the first April primaries, which includes Texas and my own Wisconsin. Look forward to an attack ad bombardment, cheeseheads -- on top of the recall ad bombardment -- everyone seems to think we're still a swing state, despite the fact that we've probably already swung the direction we always swing.

Republicans grudgingly came around to this realization even before Tuesday night's primary results in Michigan and Arizona.

"It's a muddle," said Jack Lindley, the Republican party chairman in Vermont, one of 10 primary and caucus states that will vote Tuesday. "Mitt Romney will probably pick up the most delegates on Super Tuesday and then it goes on, state by state, drip by drip. It's like water torture."

Sit back and grab some popcorn, because this thing isn't ending any time soon. These guys are going to bloody each other up for a while.


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