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Super Split Decision: Romney Wins, But Can't Close Deal

As Super Tuesday gives way to post-mortem Wednesday, several realities are becoming clear: (1) Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee for president, barring an unforeseen political earthquake.  (2) Despite his near-prohibitive front-runner status, Romney still cannot convince a sizable chunk of the GOP electorate to hop on his bandwagon, particularly Southerners and evangelicals. (3) The nomination fight is likely to carry on until at least May. 


Before we look ahead, let's examine what happened on the primary calendar's busiest day.  Earlier in the week, we broke down the ten states into four groups.  We predicted that Mitt Romney would win with relative ease in four of Super Tuesday's ten states, that Newt Gingrich would carry Georgia, that Rick Santorum would prevail in Oklahoma, and that two states -- Ohio and Tennessee -- were too close to call.  We also noted that two additional caucus states had no credible polling data and were therefore very difficult to gauge.  All in all, these projections turned out to be right on target:

Group Romney

Massachusetts - The Bay State's former governor went home and cleaned up, winning by a 60 point margin over his closest competitor, 72-12.

Vermont - New England has been hospitable territory for Romney (he's now won four of the region's six states), and Vermont was no exception.  He glided to a 15-point win over Ron Paul, 40-25.

Virginia - In this two-man race, Romney topped Ron Paul 60-40, gathering nearly all of the Commonwealth's delegates (though Paul won a lone Congressional district, netting himself three).  The final spread was closer than expected, but still a blowout.  Phil Klein explains why this result shouldn't be brushed aside, underscoring the singificance of Gingrich and Santorum failing to get on the ballot.

Idaho - A large LDS population and enduring support swept Romney to an easy victory in Spud Country.  With 87 percent of precincts reporting, his margin of victory rivaled that of Massachusetts.


Group Not Romney

Georgia - Newt Gingrich pulled away down the stretch, winning his home state handily.  The former Speaker fell just shy of the magic 50% mark, which would have helped lock down a sizable majority of the state's proportionally-allocated delegates.

Oklahoma - As expected, Rick Santorum performed well here, although his final margin of six points over Mitt Romney was a bit lower than some pre-election polls anticipated.  It's also worth noting that Barack Obama only won 57 percent of the vote in Oklahoma's Democratic primary, losing 15 counties.

Group Question Mark

North Dakota - This caucus state went for Romney in 2008, but pulled a Colorado in 2012; North Dakotans again backed the insurgent conservative alternative candidate, who happened to be named Rick Santorum this time around.  With roughly 3/4 of precincts reporting, Santorum held a double-digit edge over Ron Paul, with Romney in third.

Alaska - Mitt Romney was declared the winner in the wee hours of the morning, edging Rick Santorum up north by four points.

Group Battleground

Tennessee - Interestingly, the Volunteer State didn't quite live up to its billing as the site of a potential three-way dogfight.  Newt Gingrich's apparent late surge went bust, as he fell to a distant third, and Mitt Romney struggled to really make it close.  Rick Santorum benefited from a heavily evangelical electorate, beating his closest rival by nine points and winning most major demographics.  As recently as Monday, polls suggested Tennessee might be a photo finish. When the actual numbers came in, Santorum breezed to an even more comfortable victory the one he enjoyed in Oklahoma.  Go figure.

Ohio - The grand prize.  Early Tuesday evening, I labeled the Buckeye State a "genuine toss-up."  That turned out to be an understatement.  In a nail-biter affair that witnessed Rick Santorum leading throughout much of the night, Romney-friendly urban and suburban counties finally started to roll in before midnight, pushing the former Massachusetts governor over the top.  Out of well over one million votes cast -- turnout was up over 2008 -- Romney beat Santorum by roughly 12,000 votes, with 96% of precincts reporting.  As Cuyahoga (Cleveland) and Hamilton (Cincinnati) counties cut into, then eliminated, Santorum's late lead, the team at Romney headquarters breathed a sigh of relief.  (Some have argued that Romney ran up the score in areas that will vote Democratic in the general, tainting his victory -- John Podhoretz offers a persuasive rebuttal). Early in the evening, Romney operatives told Politico's Mike Allen that their candidate would end up carrying the state "easily."  While they were right about the final outcome, they were wrong about the ease with which it would be achieved.  It wasn't especially convincing, but a win is a win, and this particular win will actually prove even more significant in the all-important delegates column.  Because Santorum was ineligible to claim nearly 30 percent of Ohio's 63 delegates, Romney will pocket the bulk of them.


Final Super Tuesday Scoreboard: Romney 6, Santorum 3, Gingrich 1, Paul 0.  What matters far more than raw state win totals, however, is delegate allotment.  Every single state that voted on Tuesday allocates delegates proportionally, and that byzantine process is underway as I write this.  When the dust settles, however, Romney is projected to emerge with an outright majority of Super Tuesday's at-stake delegates, further extending his lead in the category:

Mitt Romney appears poised to take a solid majority of the delegates available on Super Tuesday...So far, ABC News estimates that Romney has won 105 delegates.  Newt Gingrich (39) and Rick Santorum (39) follow, with Ron Paul tailing (8). The 10 Super Tuesday states will send a combined 437 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in August, though not all of those delegates will be awarded to candidates tonight.

Let's revisit the three assertions I made at the top of the post.  (1) Yes, Mitt Romney is all but certain to be the Republican nominee for president.  Don't take my word for it.  The math is very unkind to Rick Santorum, and all but impossible for Newt Gingrich, at this point:

FHQ has modified that original model and put together a spreadsheet that not only better captures the rules in each state, but also allows for a constant level of support across all upcoming contests to be to be plugged in. Let's begin by assuming that Santorum enters with 19 delegates and project a 50% level of support across all the remaining contests with bound delegates. This 50% would apply to not only the statewide vote but the congressional district votes as well. In other words, this would trigger a winner-take-all allocation of delegates in most states that have the conditional winner-take-all/proportional rules hinging on a candidate receiving a majority of the vote.

This is extremely generous. It assumes that candidate X would win nearly all the delegates in states that were not already directly proportional. Less generously, this does not count, like the previous version of this exercise, caucus states with unbound delegates (see Iowa, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, etc.) nor automatic delegates who have yet to endorse. Where does that leave Santorum? 1075 delegates [me: out of the 1144 majority necessary to win a majority].


This analysis was tabulated before yesterday's Romney delegate feast, which will only stack the numbers against the 'Not Romneys' even more.  Expect to hear Mitt's crew talking a lot a lot about his opponents' "mathematically impossible" path to the nomination in the coming days and weeks. 

(2) Despite his string of wins and increasing arithmetic advantage, Mitt Romney still hasn't been able to truly break away.  National Review's Rich Lowry observes a striking paradox:

In a sketch last weekend following Mitt Romney's win in Michigan, "Saturday Night Live" had its Romney character boast that it was another instance of voters saying of him, "Eh, I guess." Eh, I guess looks to be the motto he'll have to try to ride to the nomination. It was an "eh" night for Romney, although he avoided catastrophe by pulling out a razor-thin win in Ohio where he was trailing most of the night...Rarely has a candidate seemed so inevitable and so weak at the same time.

(3) Even if Romney's inevitability is a foregone conclusion, the primary fight will probably sputter along through at least April.  None of the candidates have even hinted at dropping out of the race, although the Santorum camp is seeking to turn up the heat on Gingrich.  March features a series of (presumably) 'Not Romney'-inclined states, including Kansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  It isn't until April that the terrain shifts decisively to Romney's advantage, with contests in places like New York, Maryland, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Buckle up.  We're not through just yet.


UPDATE - It begins.  Romney supporter Kevin Madden paints the delegate picture moving forward:

Santorum must win 65% of remaining delegates (won 22.8% so far) Gingrich must win 70% of remaining delegates (won 13% so far)

According to the New York Times' count, Romney has won ~36 percent of the requisite delegates, Santorum 15%, Gingrich 9%, and Paul 4%.

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