Right now Romney has taken Virginia, Vermont, Massachusetts, Ohio, Idaho and Wyoming. (Wyoming hasn't been called by the media but its going for Romney. They have been really slow tonight in calling some obvious races.) Santorum has taken Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota. Gingrich took his native state of Georgia. The delegate math is starting to really pile up to Romney's advantage.
Now for a quick breakdown of the primary race by candidate. In alphabetical order...
- Newt Gingrich: His campaign is now on life support. In my opinion he has zero chance of capturing the nomination and absent another massive infusion of cash from his wealthy political sponsors via his Super PAC he will be forced out of the race. Tonight he took only his home state and could not break 50% there. His showing in virtually all of the other states was abysmal. Many neo-conservatives are starting to note that the votes for Gingrich, though insignificant by themselves have been more than the margin of victory for Romney in several key races including Michigan and tonight in Ohio. In short Gingrich is Romney's biggest ally right now because he is splitting the neo-con anti-Romney vote. Look for calls to start coming in, privately at first and then publicly if needed, for Gingrich to take one for the team (or face electoral reality) and drop out of the race. This will allow the neo-cons to concentrate their votes for the first time in their anyone but Romney campaign. From this point forward a vote for Gingrich is a vote for Romney.
- Ron Paul: "Always the bride's maid, never the bride." Ya ya I know... Alaska is still counting votes. Ron Paul made some impressive 2nd place showings tonight. In fact he had a better night than any so far in the campaign. But he has yet to put up a state in the "win" column. Of course no one beyond the delusional thinks Dr. Paul has any chance at winning the nomination. His ambition is to accomplish three things. First advance the libertarian cause and lay the groundwork for an ideological revolution that will profoundly reshape the GOP. Like Moses he knows he is unlikely to live to see the promised land. But he has lead the faithful to it. This is a battle that will be waged over many elections. The next generation is much more libertarian and they will be the future of the Republican Party if Ron Paul is successful. Secondly, in the near term he wants a voice in the platform committee and a speaking slot at the convention. If he has enough delegates he could reasonably expect that. And lastly if there is a brokered convention (still unlikely but not beyond the realm of possibility) he may play a role in naming the GOP nominee.
- Mitt Romney: He's still the odds on favorite to win the nomination. But his support is incredibly weak. He is winning through a combination of excellent staff work and enormous money advantages. Yet almost everywhere his support remains profoundly anemic. The only states he has really won by large margins are his home state of Massachusetts and those with large Mormon populations. Take Virginia, a state where the party establishment pretty much rigged the election for Romney by making it as hard as possible for candidates to get on the ballot, and then prohibited write in candidates, and then topped it off by requiring a loyalty oath from all voters that they would support the nominee of the party in the general election. Romney was only running against Ron Paul and yet Paul took over 40% of the vote! Additionally Romney has yet to win in really conservative states absent large Mormon support. Still Romney knows how to run a numbers game and he is doing it well. The mathematical wall he is building is starting to look impressive. As noted above, he has been enormously aided by the inability of his mainly neo-con opposition to rally behind a single candidate. His greatest strength right now is money and organization. His greatest fear is that Gingrich will drop out of the race leaving him to face a unified opposition falling in line behind Santorum. If he can get through the next big round of primaries with his opposition divided, he may finally be able to close the deal and claim the mantle of the inevitable nominee. But hostility among neo-cons to Romney is almost visceral. Even if he wins the nomination he is gong to have a lot of damage control to work on within the party going into the general election.
- Rick Santorum: I can't stand the man's politics, but one cannot help but admire his unflagging perseverance. He has waged a campaign that is not just come from behind, but really come from dead last and risen to become the only viable opponent to Mitt Romney's eventual coronation in Tampa. And he has done it all with virtually no campaign staff or organization and a shoestring budget. Romney has outspent him by 6:1, and still here he is. Santorum must be feeling deeply frustrated tonight. He has had two really huge opportunities to rock Romney back on his heels, first in Michigan and tonight in Ohio, and he came up just short in both cases. If even a small percentage of Newt Gingrich's voters had instead backed him, Romney would be in serious trouble tonight. Santorum's greatest strength and weakness are pretty much the same thing, his obvious and deeply felt conviction on social issues. He is rallying the neo and social cons with his blistering culture war rhetoric but also alienating moderates. This tends to play well in primary season when you are trying to fire up the right wing of the party. In a general election though much of what he has said would come back to hurt him. More than a few people have opined (and I concur) that nominating Santorum would probably set the GOP up for an epic electoral shellacking not seen since 1964. And for the record the Democrats made the same mistake, nominating an ideologue, back in 1972. To win the nomination though, Santorum needs to stick to populist economic themes and by hook or by crook get Gingrich out of the race. If Gingrich drops out he has a shot at stopping Romney. But time and the math are not on his side.