BOSTON — The band at the Westin Copley played the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” as Mitt Romney supporters watched the results pour in: “I gotta feeling that tonight’s going to be a good night/That tonight’s gonna be a good, good night.”
But at first it didn’t look like it was going to be a good night for Romney. Fox News initially reported that exit polls showed a Ron Paul surge in Virginia and Vermont, making two states the former Massachusetts governor was supposed to carry handily suddenly too close to call.
The news quickly got better. The networks called Vermont for Romney, with Paul finishing a distant second. Virginia turned out to be much closer than anyone expected, but Romney still won 59 percent to 41 percent, taking all but three of the delegates.
Enthusiastic, as opposed to reluctant and resigned, Romney supporters are often hard to find. But they were everywhere in the hotel’s packed ballroom, on fire for Mitt. This shouldn’t be surprising: Romney won Massachusetts with 72 percent of the vote and swept all the delegates. In 2008, Romney only beat John McCain by 51 percent to 41 percent in the Bay State. That year, Romney only got four more Massachusetts delegates than McCain.
Newt Gingrich won Georgia, but the Romneyites were unperturbed. As the television screens showed Gingrich, now deep into his speech, saying he was “amazed” Saturday Night Live hadn’t done a skit about President Obama’s recent energy speech, a man shouted, “I’m amazed you’re still talking!”
Munching on miniature cheeseburgers and hot dogs, Romney’s backers were much more concerned about Rick Santorum’s showing in Ohio. The lead kept seesawing back and forth between the two candidates. At one point, Romney was still trailing with 59 percent of the vote reported. Everybody knew a Santorum win, regardless of the delegate math, would make the road ahead much tougher for their candidate.
Even though he was still in the lead, Santorum spoke before Romney, appearing in Steubenville, Ohio. Reporters mumbled to each other that Santorum might have waited if he really didn’t believe the exit polls, which suggested Romney would win narrowly. But before he finished, word came that Romney was preparing to address the gathering.
The band played hits spanning from the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” before warming the crowd up for Romney with “You Make Me Wanna Shout.” A man walked up to the podium and appeared to shuffle papers. The crowd chanted, “We want Mitt! We want Mitt!” But no Mitt appeared. Instead, they switched to canned music: first a local favorite, Boston’s “More Than A Feeling,” followed by some Hall and Oates, and then a brief video touting all the contests Romney had won.
When the patriotic music started playing, it became obvious Romney would soon speak. Former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, who ran unsuccessfully to succeed Romney in 2006, appeared first. Healey reminded the throngs that Romney had inherited a deficit (from the only one of his Republican predecessors who hasn’t endorsed him for president) and left Massachusetts with a surplus.
Then the Romneys took the stage, with Ann pretty in pink and the candidate wearing his standard conservative suit and blue tie. The crowd shouted “Go Mitt go, go Mitt go!,” a variation of the chant made familiar at Pat Buchanan rallies in the 1990s. Ann Romney thanked an improbably long list of people in all ten Super Tuesday states — including, oddly, Donald Trump for supporting Mitt on the radio in Ohio — before turning her attention to Massachusetts.
Mrs. Romney thanked the small but influential crew of successful Bay State Republicans who endorsed her husband (and whose moderation, especially on social issues, probably makes them imperfect surrogates outside the commonwealth): Sen. Scott Brown, who is suddenly leading Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren in the polls, former Govs. Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci, and state House Minority Leader Brad Jones.
“We want Mitt! We want Mitt!” The crowd then got their wish. Romney took to the podium and thanked his supporters for welcoming him, vowing to “take this win to the White House” He said it would be the first night that he would get to go home in two months. He congratulated Gingrich for winning Georgia, Santorum for the states he won, and Paul for getting people excited about the Constitution. And then he promptly ripped into Obama.
After mentioning the electorate’s economic suffering, Romney said, “President Obama keeps telling these Americans that the recovery is here.” The crowd booed lustily, perhaps their strongest reaction of the night. Granted, this was a very partisan audience. But it does make one wonder if bragging about isolated positive statistics concerning the still-fragile economy could backfire. Romney continued: “But, for them, the recession isn’t over.”
“To the millions of Americans who look around and can only see jobs they can’t get and bills they can’t pay, I have a message,” Romney declared, picking up steam. “You have not failed. This president has failed you.” He tried to draw sharp contrasts: Obama signed Obamacare, Romney would repeal it; Obama wanted to raise taxes on job creators and individuals, Romney wanted to cut them; Obama opposed the Keystone Pipeline while Romney would approve it.
“President Obama said he would create jobs,” Romney argued. “For 36 months, unemployment has been above 8 percent. He said he would cut the deficit in half. He’s doubled it.” Romney concluded that these results may be good enough for Obama and his aides “high-fiving each other in the West Wing.” But this was not, he maintained, “the best America can do.” The ballroom erupted in chants: “USA! USA!“
Hours after Romney left the podium, the news broke that he had finally won Ohio. He did so by just one percentage point. Romney continued to show relative weakness in the Southern and border states, losing Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Georgia. He finished third in a caucus in North Dakota and Virginia suggested he would he would have to fight it out even in a two-man race with Paul.
But Romney came away with large leads in the popular vote and delegate count, and a combination of states that suggest he is likely to get his chance to challenge Obama’s record in the fall campaign.
Super Tuesday might not have been a good, good night for Romney. But it was probably good enough.