But has he conquered the delegate game?
Republicans in 10 states went to the polls yesterday to choose their party’s nominee but all eyes were on Ohio, where Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum alternated as the top candidate in the polls. Hours after the polls in the state closed, Romney was declared the winner in Ohio by only one percent. Romney significantly grew his delegate total and some analysts argue that it is virtually impossible for Santorum to win the 1,144 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination without a brokered convention.
Mitt Romney won Ohio with 38% of the vote to Rick Santorum’s 37%. Newt Gingrich came in 15% and Ron Paul came in 9%. Unfortunately for Santorum, he may be unable to win up to 18 of the state’s 63 delegates because of mistakes in campaign filings.
Romney also won Vermont (40%), Massachusetts (72%), Idaho (69%) and Virginia (60%), where only he and Ron Paul qualified for the ballot. The results from the Alaska caucus were not in at the time of publication, but Romney won that caucus in 2008. He now has at least 396 delegates.
Romney spoke confidently last night, declaring, “I’m gonna get this nomination!” He emphasized electability and the importance of defeating President Obama. He said that a second Obama term would be worse than the first because he’d be “unrestricted by the demands of reelection.” He did not criticize his rivals and told viewers that “real change is finally on the way.” His message was almost entirely geared towards the general election.
Rick Santorum won Tennessee (37%), Oklahoma (34%) and North Dakota (40%). His delegate total is now at least 158. He says he can defeat Romney if Newt Gingrich drops out, thereby consolidating the voters that are opposed to the current frontrunner. In his speech, Santorum distinguished himself as the only one of the three that has never favored an individual health care mandate.
The bulk of Santorum's speech was devoted to making a philosophical argument for conservatism and against liberalism, saying that the 2012 election is about “fundamental liberty.” He went after Romney on health care, stating that the Republican Party needs a nominee who will be “truthful with the American public.”
Newt Gingrich said he had to win his home state of Georgia to continue and he did so with 48% of the vote. He has 103 delegates, according to CNN. He began his speech by recounting how many times the “elites” had declared his candidacy dead. He then argued that Romney is less electable than him because the “Romney tactic” of outspending his opponents will not work against a more formidable President Obama. Gingrich said that the nominee must be able to debate Obama and his “deliciously incoherent” policies.
Gingrich was the only candidate to talk at length about Iran, tying the threat to his pledge to bring the price of gasoline down to $2.50 per gallon. He said that the U.S. must tell Iran that if it shuts down the Strait of Hormuz, it will be considered an act of war and “their government will cease to exist.” Over the long-term, he said, the U.S. must achieve energy independence so it can tell China, India and Europe that “You have a problem in the Strait of Hormuz. We hope you can fix it.”
Earlier in the day, he pointed out that he is expected to win his home state by several times the margin that Romney won Michigan, where he grew up. He said that his strategy is to win Georgia and then Kansas on March 10 and Alabama and Mississippi on March 13, reasserting himself as the alternative to Romney.
Ron Paul did not win any primaries or caucuses but commentators were surprised when Virginia and Vermont could not be immediately called for Romney because of Paul’s strength in those contests. Ron Paul came in second in Virginia with about 40%, Idaho (17%), North Dakota (28%) and Vermont (25%). CNN has him with 60 delegates now.
Romney’s big win last night will tempt pundits to declare the race essentially over. Frontrunner HQ wrote before Super Tuesday’s results that it is highly improbable that one of Romney’s rivals will accumulate the 1,144 delegates necessary to win the nomination.
“The bottom line here is that Romney has enough of a delegate advantage right now and especially coming out of today's contests that it is very unlikely that anyone will catch him, much less catch him and get to 1,114,” it writes.
If that is true, then the only remaining option is to prevent Romney from winning that number of delegates, ushering in a brokered convention that could potentially stop him. Political analyst Dick Morris believes that even a deadlock that extends the primary season would give President Obama a huge advantage. If the nominee is not decided until the convention in late August, Morris writes, then “kiss our chances of beating Obama good-bye!”
A brokered convention is still viewed as an unlikely event but based on the twists and turns of this race, the unlikely should be expected.
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