(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/03/gingrich-romney-santorum.gif)Rick Santorum scored two more surprise victories last night with wins in Alabama and Mississippi. Polls leading up to the vote projected victories for Mitt Romney and/or Newt Gingrich, with reports earlier in the day indicating that exit polls showed Romney taking Mississippi. Santorum won both states at the end of a night, which will heighten speculation about a brokered Republican convention in August.
The RealClearPolitics poll average had Gingrich barely ahead of Romney in Alabama by only 0.2%, and the last poll in Mississippi had him leading by 2%. One poll found Romney ahead in Alabama by 2%. One poll earlier in March had Romney winning Mississippi by 8%. None showed Santorum winning.
Yet, he won Alabama with 34.6%, about 5 points ahead of Gingrich (29.3%) and Romney (28.9%). Ron Paul only received 5% of the vote. Santorum won Mississippi with 32.9%, about 1.5 points ahead of Gingrich (31.3%). Romney came in third with 30.3% and Paul in fourth with 4.4%.
As things stand now, Romney is projected to have 474 delegates. That is a huge lead over Santorum with 228, Gingrich with 137 and Paul with 64.
Santorum opened up his victory speech with, “We did it again.” The objective of his speech was to counter the perception that it is inevitable that Romney will be the Republican nominee. He said that he “spent a whole lot of money against me for someone who is inevitable.” He argued against Romney’s electability, saying that only a genuine conservative can defeat President Obama.
Some experts feel that it is nearly impossible for Santorum to get the 1,144 delegates needed to take the nomination. Santorum predicts that he will win the nomination at the convention. He says “it will be very difficult for anyone to get to the number of delegates that is necessary to win with the majority at the convention.” His campaign argues that Romney would lose in a brokered convention because “he will have a very hard time getting his moderate supporters elected as delegates in these convention systems.”
Newt Gingrich’s strategy is essentially the same. Before the vote, he said he wants to stop Romney from reaching 1,144 delegates so there can be a 60-day period between the primaries and the convention in late August about who the nominee should be. In an interview with FOX News Channel’s Bret Baier last night, he floated the possibility that an entirely new candidate could become the nominee if that were to happen. His campaign originally said it had to win both states in order to remain in the contest.
He began his speech by reminding the audience that the delegates are allocated proportionally and vowing to stay in the race until the very end. He declared that the “elite media’s narrative that Mitt Romney is inevitable just collapsed.” He said that Romney cannot defeat Obama in a debate because of his health care plan.
Gingrich focused on energy independence in his concession speech. He said that the Wall Street Journal confirmed that his pledge to bring the price of gasoline down to $2.50 per gallon is doable. Over 24 billion barrels of oil are believed to be in North Dakota alone, he said.
Gingrich admitted that the coming days would be tough for his campaign. He said that fundraising would suffer and that the next few days would be swarmed with calls on him to drop out. In his interview on FOX later that evening, he rejected the idea that his presence in the race is helping Romney by siphoning off votes from Santorum. He said that he can compete with Romney in places where Santorum did not qualify for the ballot, like Washington D.C. and Indiana.
Santorum’s victories are a blow to the Romney campaign’s efforts to argue that their victory is guaranteed. He said that Santorum is “at the desperate end of his campaign” and Romney’s team released a memo saying “the delegate math just doesn’t add up for anyone but Mitt” and “the only [person whose] odds of winning … are increasing are Barack Obama’s.”
Romney’s competitors remain committed to stopping him. Christopher Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax.com and a supporter of Gingrich, wrote that “The Romney team argues that their candidate needs 48 percent of the remaining delegates to win the nomination…Sure, it’s unlikely that Santorum or Gingrich can [win 1,144 delegates]…But it’s just as unlikely for Romney to get 48 percent of the remaining delegates.”
One factor moving forward will be Republican concerns over whether the long primary process and a possible brokered convention are hurting the eventual nominee’s chances. Political analyst Dick Morris feels that if there is a fight at the convention in late August, then “you can kiss our chances of defeating Obama goodbye.”
The next contest is on Saturday, March 17, when Missouri has a caucus that Santorum will probably win. Romney is expected to win the Puerto Rico primary on March 18. The most attention is devoted to the Illinois and Louisiana primaries that will take place on March 20 and March 24, respectively. The last poll in Illinois had Romney ahead by 4% and the last poll in Louisiana had Santorum up by 4%.
There is a debate scheduled in Oregon for March 19, but Mitt Romney has just backed out of it. It is unclear if his opponents will follow suit.
Santorum and Gingrich are openly hoping for a brokered convention. The conversation within the Republican Party is about to change as each voter evaluates the risks and benefits of not having a nominee until late August.
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