Due to its being squeezed in between the crucial Michigan and Arizona primaries and Super Tuesday, not much attention was paid to the Washington state caucus by either the Republican presidential candidates or the media. But while the voting, which took the form of a straw poll at caucuses where delegates to a state convention were chosen, presented the now familiar pattern of chaos that we have to expect from GOP caucuses, the result went pretty much as expected as Mitt Romney cruised to an easy win. Romney took 38 percent of the vote. Second place went to Ron Paul, who narrowly edged out Rick Santorum by a 25-24 percent margin. The fading Newt Gingrich finished last with 10 percent. Along with recent wins in Maine, Wyoming, Arizona and Michigan, this gives Romney a modest five-state winning streak heading in to Super Tuesday with most of the focus on Ohio where he hopes to once again head off a strong challenge from Santorum.
Though Romney’s critics can look at these results and point to the same lack of enthusiasm and inability to win the affection of conservatives that have plagued him elsewhere, his win in Washington highlights the fact that he remains the strongest candidate in the field with the organization and resources to fight and win contests all over the map. Accumulating victories of this sort doesn’t change the narrative about Romney’s personal shortcomings, but it does reinforce the notion of the inevitability of his being nominated by the Republicans.
This momentum will be crucial on Tuesday as Romney seeks more victories that will make it clear he is the only possible winner of the GOP race, no matter how long his rivals drag out the battle. In particular, a win in Ohio over Rick Santorum will come as close as any to sealing the deal. Santorum has been leading the polls in Ohio for most of the last month. As was the case in Michigan, the state’s blue-collar voters are perfect targets for Santorum’s appeal to the working class. But the Pennsylvanian’s perceived extremism on social issues that helped Romney come from behind in Michigan appears to be a factor in Ohio, too. Romney is closing in the polls and one more win in his pocket over the weekend will only strengthen the impression Santorum has already lost his one chance to knock off the frontrunner.
Santorum continues to complain, much as Gingrich has done, about Romney’s lack of authenticity. But though Romney’s attempt to portray himself as a true conservative has often come across as phony, despite an unprecedented number of lead changes and twists and turns, the basic outline of the race has remained constant since the fall. Romney continues to take advantage of the fact that there is no single credible conservative challenger who can match him when it comes to electability. Much like Gingrich’s personal baggage and inconsistent record, Santorum’s self-inflicted wounds have left most Americans viewing him as running more for the post of national scold than president, leaving Romney as the only plausible Republican candidate in the race.
This may bitterly disappoint many conservatives, but the mathematics of the delegate race is starting to shape up as a formula that will leave them little choice but to make their peace with Romney or settle down for another four years of Barack Obama in the White House. Another few victories on Tuesday for Romney should lead many Republicans to understand that this reconciliation process must begin as soon as possible.