1. CNN’s headline last night was “No knockout blow for Romney,” which is true but misleading. While Mitt Romney didn’t dominate Super Tuesday as completely as Bob Dole, who swept all seven states in 1996, and all four candidates remained reasonably competitive in states that played to their strengths, winning six out of ten states is far from bad. John McCain, who was seen as the inevitable Republican nominee after Super Tuesday in 2008, won nine states to Romney’s seven and Mike Huckabee’s five.
2. Romney’s performance looks even better when you focus on delegates won. He took all the delegates from Massachusetts, nearly all of them from Virginia, and won delegates even in every single state he lost. Although the popular vote in Ohio was close, the delegate allocation was not. The delegate math for Romney’s opponents has become daunting, to say the least.
3. Rick Santorum’s continuing strength leads to the inescapable conclusion that a better funded and organized conservative challenger would likely have mopped the floor with Romney. If Romney wins the nomination and a.) loses the election or b.) wins and fails to govern as a conservative, expect a lot of Rick Perry recriminations. Some will regret that Perry didn’t campaign better; others will be angry that fellow conservatives gave up on Perry so quickly. In any event, Santorum has done a remarkable job despite limited resources and not exactly fitting the Southern, evangelical profile of the states most resistant to Romney.
4. Newt Gingrich is invoking his Georgia win as a justification for staying in the race. But Gingrich didn’t finish better than third anywhere else. Ohio was the only non-Southern state where the former House speaker didn’t finish last. Santorum outperformed him in most of the Southern or border states where they were both on the ballot, and also in the caucus states. But Gingrich is still not that far behind Santorum in total popular vote, and he is Newt Gingrich, so I don’t expect any of this to influence his thinking.
5. Ron Paul’s caucus strategy for delegate maximization clearly isn’t panning out as hoped (even granting the Paul campaign’s contention that conventional counts are missing a lot of the delegates they are picking up behind the scenes). Given Paul’s improved numbers almost everywhere, one wonders in retrospect if they might have been better served by trying to gain momentum by running up their popular vote in key contests.
6. What happened in Virginia is nevertheless a pretty good example of what might have been for Paul: he was able to pull a sizeable anti-Romney vote. As the second-best campaign organization, it was not unreasonable to assume a Romney-Paul race at some point, and perhaps one will still occur while a significant bloc of delegates remains at stake. But super PACs and Gingrich’s ego have kept other non-Romneys with higher mainstream movement profiles and less divergent foreign policy views in the mix much longer. Still, don’t expect Paul to drop out before the others do.
7. If you couldn’t tell from my column this morning, I think Romney is starting to piece together a decent critique of President Obama’s record — one that will resonate with both conservatives and moderates. Serious questions remain as to whether he is the right man for that message.