A resurgent Rick Santorum swept primaries in Alabama and Mississippi Tuesday night, upending the race for the Republican presidential nomination as he sought to push Newt Gingrich toward the sidelines.
A compilation of analysis and reaction.
Santorum’s convincing wins in Tuesday’s Deep South double-header shook up the GOP presidential primary contest once again, highlighting … Romney’s chronic weaknesses among conservatives while raising questions about Newt Gingrich’s ability to remain a major force in the nominating race. The conservative underdog, Santorum can now lay greater claim to being the strongest challenger to Romney, who fell to 0-for-5 in the crucial southern region of the country. In January, South Carolina voters stifled his momentum after New Hampshire. Tennesseans gave Santorum a victory on Super Tuesday last week that once again showed Romney lacked appeal among white, evangelical Christians.
It remains a race of mathematics versus a movement. … Santorum’s argument for why he will take the convention by storm in Tampa, Fla., relies on his emerging position as the conservative juggernaut. But if the majority of voters have doubts that he can beat Obama or handle an international crisis, it will be hard for him to thunder into the convention as the obvious choice. … Bill Clinton managed to revive himself in 1992, but he was a natural politician and he had a personal story that more people found appealing. Mitt Romney can’t be both the Republican front-runner and the Comeback Kid.
In five years of campaigning it is stunning to me that the Romney camp still has no clue how to play the expectations game. It is increasingly clear it is not a well run campaign, Mitt Romney is not a good campaigner, but he will still, more likely than not, be the GOP nominee.
1) Illinois is the new Michigan: … Obama’s home state … is going to become the next closely-watched race when voters head to the polls for the Illinois primary [next Tuesday] … Romney is slightly ahead in the most recent poll there, but it’s another race where he – and the super PAC supporting him – are going to have to spend heavily to maintain their edge. 2) Mitt Romney needs a message for his supporters and donors: … Romney is in New York City Wednesday for a string of finance events that begin in the morning and are expected to net him roughly $2 million over two days – from a group of people who are growing exasperated with the duration of the primary. … 3) This is now a two-man race: With apologies to Gingrich and his supporters, and despite the fact that he says he’ll fight on, Santorum has the claim on the title of conservative alternative to Mitt Romney now. … 4) Boston shakeup talk is going to start anew: … Romney the private equity executive probably wouldn’t look at his firm after a series of faulty transactions and conclude that nothing needed to be changed. … 5) Santorum’s team has played the expectations game well: And Romney’s team has not.
Why did the polls overstate Romney’s strength? Blake Hounshell goes there:
Results tonight in MS and AL raise the question of whether evangelical voters are lying to pollsters about willingness to vote for a Mormon.
Voters in Alabama and Mississippi engaged in massive resistance yesterday, giving Romney less than a third of their votes. … If Newt chooses to end his campaign in late March or early April … we’d be in a two-man race. As the examples of Ford-Reagan in 1976 and Obama-Clinton in 2008 suggest, the victor in such a contest tends to seem by its conclusion a worthy winner, and is able to run a strong general election campaign coming out of the convention. If Romney were to earn the nomination in those circumstances, he’d be far better off than if he had clinched the nomination early by out-spending and out-muscling a divided field. If Santorum were to win an upset victory, he’d have a real wind at his back going into the general election.
Matt Lewis articulates what will surely be a conservative chorus pretty soon:
[I]f [Gingrich] truly believes Mitt Romney is a “Massachusetts moderate” masquerading as a conservative, then he owes it to Republican voters to give former Sen. Rick Santorum a clean shot at wresting the nomination from him. I’m pretty sure Santorum has earned it.
Patricia Murphy notes Newt Gingrich tipped his hand last night at “his campaign’s real strategy, which is no longer to win to nomination outright but to make Mitt Romney lose by denying him the 1,144 delegates he needs to clinch the GOP nomination before the Republican convention in August.”
National Journal quotes Gingrich: “Governor Romney will get at most one out of every three delegates. Once again he will fall dramatically short … I think that the odds against his being able to get 1,144 delegates is very, very high. I think he is more likely to be a front-runner who ends up not finishing the race.”
Even with the full backing of the Mississippi political establishment, and with a 5 – 1 money advantage, Romney came in third. He lost by a larger margin in Alabama. If this were a race between him and Santorum, he would have been wiped out tonight. The pressure on Gingrich to quit will be intense, but if Adelson wants to keep financing him, his own ego would rather rip his own party apart than concede to allow a final fight for victory between Mitt and Rick.
So the odds of a brokered convention rise slightly; Romney remains unable to get any serious momentum; and Santorum keeps winning the vote of those earning under $50k. The evangelical vote against Romney remains solid, unchanging, resilient. The dynamic of the race has not altered; it has complicated marginally in Santorum’s direction.