Last night, former Governor of Massachusetts and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney emerged victorious in three primaries, cementing his status not only as the dominant front-runner but also as the likely nominee. He picked up 56 delegates from the primaries in Maryland and Washington D.C. (the latter of which he earned 70% of the vote), and 33 delegates from a very close primary in Wisconsin. Mr. Romney currently has an estimated 658 delegates, and is now officially past the halfway mark to the 1,144 needed to win the nomination. Despite winning a significant amount of counties in Wisconsin, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum can only expect to add an estimated 12 to 20 delegates to his total, which is currently estimated to be 281. The uphill battle for Mr. Santorum has only become more onerous and the likelihood of him besting Mr. Romney for the nomination is now borderline impossible, as he would need 72% of the remaining delegates to win.
In addition to the victories Mr. Romney obtained from the popular vote and delegates in Wisconsin, there were other encouraging signs from the statistics of the exit polls. Mr. Romney beat Mr. Santorum in almost all demographics including “very conservative” voters, “moderate” voters and strong supporters of the Tea Party. He also managed to come very close to winning the vote of working-class voters with an income between $30,000 to $50,000 and evangelical Christians. These are precisely the demographics he needed to begin to make inroads with, and Wisconsin was the perfect state to highlight those signs of improvement. However, the same dynamic repeated itself last night and Mr. Romney was clearly only able to win the state because of his massive support in the suburban areas of Milwaukee. He has to worry about whether these same rural voters who vote against him in the primaries will turn out for him in the general election. Otherwise, crucial swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania will end up going to President Obama in the fall.
In his speech last night, Mr. Santorum claimed he was at the “halfway mark” in the race and was going to provide an enormous comeback in the primaries next month. He may very well win a majority of the primaries in May as they are mostly taking place in states that are demonstrably more conservative than hose being held this month. However, last night indicated that this is clearly the beginning of the end for his campaign (though I would argue that actually began last month in Illinois), and it is long past half-time. He has virtually no time to come back in this race, and Mr. Santorum is in grave danger of even losing his own home state later this month. Quinnipiac’s latest poll in Pennsylvania only has him ahead of Mr. Romney by 5 points, and the same polling firm had him ahead of Mr. Romney by 14 points just three weeks earlier.
As I stated two days ago, four of the primaries taking place on the 24th (New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware) are almost guaranteed to go to Mr. Romney. In fact, if Mr. Romney didn’t even set foot in any of these states to campaign in, he would probably still win by massive margins. New York in particular will provide him 95 delegates, and the total number of delegates he would win from Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware would be almost as much. Now that it’s looking to be close even in Mr. Santorum’s own home state of Pennsylvania, you can bet Mr. Romney will be executing his controversial (and mostly successful) strategy there of outspending his opponents by massive margins. It’s uncertain whether or not it will work since Mr. Santorum still carries a lot of support from his home state and the only area where Mr. Romney is favorable is the urban Southeast (Philadelphia). But even if Mr. Santorum wins Pennsylvania, it is unlikely to change the inevitable outcome of the race.
As always, I continue to cogitate why former Speaker Newt Gingrich is still in the race. He finished behind Texas Representative Ron Paul in Wisconsin and Washington D.C., the latter sitting just above the state he was born in (Virginia). He finished third in Maryland, but only beat Mr. Paul by one point. That’s probably because it was the only state he bothered to campaign in, just two days ago speaking to 150 people at a car dealership. There were reports that he secretly met with Mr. Romney a few weeks ago, and as a result, a number of speculations as to what they discussed permeated the political blogs and columns. Regardless of Mr. Gingrich’s refusal to drop out, it is safe to assume that he will not win any of the remaining primaries or caucuses. The only thing we can be certain of is that he will continue to rack up more debt and be subjected to further mockery.
It is also safe to assume that no matter how hard Mr. Santorum tries to deny it, the race is effectively over. I do not expect him to officially abjure his campaign until next month, as he still has a good shot of winning Pennsylvania in lass than three weeks. However, it will likely not be by the same margins Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich won their home states, Massachusetts and Georgia, respectively. The President himself tacitly implied that he too sees the race nearing its end when he excoriated Representative Paul Ryan’s latest budget proposal yesterday. The President quoted Mr. Romney saying he found the proposal to be “marvelous” and tied it to his vision for America should he get elected. Expect Mr. Romney to pivot to general campaign mode by continuing to ignore his opponents and launch a barrage of attacks against the President. Residents of Pennsylvania should also expect to see and hear a lot more from Mr. Romney over the next three weeks.