Forget the supposed failure of Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum to “close the deal” by knocking the other out on Super Tuesday. This isn’t robot boxing. It was never going to happen.
The real news is that the GOP primary contest is finally on the verge of becoming a two-horse race after so many false dawns.
Despite winning his home state comfortably, Newt Gingrich labored in all the other contests. Worn down by the attacks from the Romney campaign that began in Florida, the gutsy former House Speaker finally looks like he is running out of steam.
Gingrich trailed Santorum by 13 per cent in Tennessee and 7 per cent in Oklahoma, coming third in both. If these states are bellwethers for the coming primaries in Kansas, Alabama and Mississipi, it surely will be game over for Newt.
It’s been game over for Ron Paul since the start of campaign. He has been capping out at around 8-12 per cent in each state. Sooner or later his support surely will start to wane as reality sets in.
So the big question is, with Gingrich and Paul looking like “also rans”, how many of their supporters in the ensuing primaries will switch to Romney or Santorum?
What? Did I say Romney? The expectation must be that those who do will move to Santorum in far greater numbers.
Just look at Virginia where around 80,000 Republicans were motivated to go to the polls simply to register a vote AGAINST Romney – boosting Ron Paul’s proportion of the state vote to 40 per cent. If this is a measure of Romney’s unpopularity among the GOP base, he shouldn’t count on winning too many converts.
Romney’s greatest asset is, well, his assets. He has more cash to spend than any other candidate. But the perception lingers that he doesn’t have conservatism in his gut. He appears to lack conviction. Witness his call to tie future minimum wage increases to inflation at a time of high unemployment.
As he tries to portray himself as conservative, Romney also is burdened by the highly publicized endorsement of John McCain – hardly a political hero to many GOP voters.
So while Romney prevailed in the tight Ohio contest, as he had in Michigan, he may now find victories more difficult to come by even while Gingrich and Paul stay in the race.
If Gingrich suspends his campaign, as Santorum’s backers are urging, this will free a sizeable group of voters to decide the outcome.
Romney’s supporters said that the contest would be over if he beat Santorum in Ohio. This is patently not the case. But Santorum will have to show some “real steel” if he is to actually overcome the well-oiled political machine out of Massachusetts.