Fifteen days ago, as dawn broke on Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney led the Republican primary race only tenuously. He had won 55 percent of the delegates awarded at that point, but there were more delegates on the line that day than in the first two months of voting combined. Many of them were in precisely the kind of Southern, conservative, evangelical-heavy states that could give a jolt of momentum to Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich.
Romney at that point needed to win 50 percent of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination but, mathematically speaking, the other candidates didn’t face much more daunting odds: Santorum needed 56 percent of the remaining delegates, while Gingrich and Ron Paul each needed 58 percent of them. If either Santorum or Gingrich could perform well enough (or poorly enough) on Super Tuesday for one of them to drop out of the race immediately, winning between 55 percent and 60 percent of the remaining delegates was a feasible task. The states and delegates — and, at least as important, the momentum — to be won Super Tuesday were bound to shape the race going forward, if not settle it.
Just before midnight that day, I wrote that Super Tuesday was “a big night toward turning the off-and-on front-runner into a highly likely nominee.” Two weeks later, including last night’s big win in Illinois, that result is even clearer.
Romney still holds 55 percent of the awarded delegates, according to the latest count at Real Clear Politics, but the race has a completely different outlook today. Santorum would have to win 75 percent of the remaining delegates; Gingrich, 84 percent; Paul, 90 percent. Romney needs just 48 percent of them.
In short, it’s mathematically over.
The important thing to watch during the next few weeks, when only four relatively small primaries will be held, is whether Romney seeks to end the contest emotionally as well, by trying to make the conservative Republicans who doubted him feel better about their apparent nominee — or whether he goes ahead and pivots toward the general election. In my view, it would be prudent for him to continue doing some of the former before moving on to the latter.
(Note: With the state tax bill consuming my attention yesterday, this is effectively a day-late edition of this week’s “2012 Tuesday” post.)
– By Kyle Wingfield