When I explained my vote for Newt Gingrich in Georgia’s presidential primary, I described him as “the candidate who is clearest and most effective at offering a different direction” than the one in which Barack Obama is leading us. For the past eight days, GOP votes in a number of states expected to be sympathetic to the former Speaker have been proving me wrong about the “most effective” part, at least.
The results last night in Alabama and Mississippi were dreadful for Gingrich. Not only did Rick Santorum beat him in each state, but in each state Gingrich’s vote total put him closer to third-place Mitt Romney than to Santorum. This, following results on last week’s Super Tuesday in which Gingrich finished third in both Oklahoma and Tennessee.
One small sign of Gingrich’s troubles connecting with voters: He came in third in Madison County, Ala., home of NASA’s Huntsville space and rocket campus, despite his repeated (and oft-ridiculed) comments in favor of a robust U.S. space program. In much the same way, he lost Brevard County, Fla., home to the Kennedy Space Center, by 10 percentage points back in January.
The public comments made by Gingrich and his supporters last night indicate he will press forward with a strategy to deny Romney an outright majority of delegates and then, presumably, win the nomination on the convention floor. While there are good and bad arguments made about the wisdom of a convention fight in late August, clearly the worst outcome would be for that fight to result in a nominee whom Republican primary voters had already rejected at the ballot box.
If the strategy is simply to deny Romney the nomination, at this point Gingrich’s continued candidacy works against that. By denying Santorum outright majorities in states like Alabama, which give nearly all their delegates to a candidate with more than 50 percent of the vote but split them in case of a mere plurality, he is ensuring that Romney continues to pick up delegates even in states where he is relatively weak.
The calls for the primary to wrap up completely are premature, because there is plenty of time left for Republicans to heal the wounds inflicted along the way and close ranks around the eventual winner. But voters Alabama, Mississippi, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee have made clear that the time is drawing near for a three-man race to become a two-man race. (Obligatory Ron Paul note: The Texas congressman’s strategy of amassing delegates in caucus states has fizzled, and with it his chances of being a power broker at the GOP convention.)
I don’t regret my vote for Gingrich, because at the time there was a path for him from Georgia to the convention in Tampa. That path is now sealed off. It’s a free country, and he can continue campaigning if he wishes. But it’s no longer a campaign with a chance of winning.
– By Kyle Wingfield