Let’s start with a summary of what happened in the Super Tuesday contests, then move on to some specifics. Romney won six states, Santorum three, and Gingrich one. The only one that was close was Ohio, which took until the wee hours to be called for Romney. Santorum had been leading there most of the evening. The [almost] final tally is 38%-37%.
Key thoughts: except for Ohio, Romney’s wins were easy. One was his real home state of Massachusetts, as opposed to his other quasi-home states of New Hampshire and Michigan. I’ve never seen a candidate with so many home states. Another of those wins was Virginia, where only he and Paul were on the ballot. That was a simple task for him, not having to face Santorum in a state where Santorum could have done well if not for having the toughest rules for getting on the ballot. Virginia may be changing those rules after this experience where its voters didn’t have a real choice.
Santorum’s win in Oklahoma was expected. In Tennessee, the polls seemed to indicate Romney was coming on strong. They were wrong. No one knew what to expect from the North Dakota caucuses; Santorum’s easy win there was somewhat surprising to the pundits. If he had captured Ohio, the story might be different this morning.
That leads me to the most important insight from the night: Newt Gingrich is the ultimate spoiler; he’s the Ross Perot of the Republican campaign. He won his home state of Georgia and claimed that was significant enough to carry on his quest. Never mind that he didn’t come in second anywhere else. Sometimes, he was woefully behind Paul as an unimpressive fourth-place finisher. The only thing keeping him going, I suspect, is ego.
As I’ve noted before, polls show that when Gingrich supporters are asked for their second choice in the race, most pick Santorum. Without Gingrich, Santorum probably would have won Ohio comfortably. The problem is, he never gets to take on Romney one-on-one. Gingrich keeps muddying the waters. It’s past time for him to go, but he doesn’t get the message.
Commentators, even after last night, continue to speak of Romney as one of the weakest frontrunners imaginable. If Gingrich were to face the inevitable, Romney wouldn’t be inevitable. If indeed Romney captures this nomination, he enters the race against Obama as a weak candidate. The mantra is that this drawn-out campaign is what is weakening him. I disagree. His weakness comes from within. His baggage will go with him.