Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gingrich

Gingrich Now on Board With Romney

That was fast. Newt Gingrich will formally end his campaign in Virginia this afternoon, and he’s reportedly already getting on board with bitter rival Mitt Romney. The Republican National Committee says it’s going to help Gingrich pay down debt, a nice gesture that may at least help keep him in line for the rest of the campaign season:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, on the eve of suspending his roller coaster presidential bid, said in an interview with USA TODAY that he will embrace Mitt Romney‘s candidacy Wednesday and is ready to campaign for his former rival.

The two men will make a joint appearance in a few weeks, when Gingrich will make an official endorsement. The Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee have offered to be helpful as Gingrich works to retire his campaign debt.

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That was fast. Newt Gingrich will formally end his campaign in Virginia this afternoon, and he’s reportedly already getting on board with bitter rival Mitt Romney. The Republican National Committee says it’s going to help Gingrich pay down debt, a nice gesture that may at least help keep him in line for the rest of the campaign season:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, on the eve of suspending his roller coaster presidential bid, said in an interview with USA TODAY that he will embrace Mitt Romney‘s candidacy Wednesday and is ready to campaign for his former rival.

The two men will make a joint appearance in a few weeks, when Gingrich will make an official endorsement. The Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee have offered to be helpful as Gingrich works to retire his campaign debt.

Gingrich had these gracious words for his former opponent in an interview with USA TODAY:

“Mitt Romney met the first criteria of being a good candidate: He won,” Gingrich said. “Now you have to respect that.” He added, “We sure didn’t give it to him. We did everything we could to slug it out with him, and he ended up being tough enough and being good enough at raising money” to prevail.

Ha! Did you see how he masterfully slipped those jabs into a statement that’s framed as a compliment? Romney was a good candidate…because he won. And he won because…he was just too good at raising money. Classic diva concession speech.

Today there will be a big show of unity as Gingrich steps aside and backs Romney, and this is just a hunch, but I can’t imagine we’ll be seeing much of the former Speaker on the trail. Romney doesn’t need a frenemy spouting out backhanded compliments during campaign events, which is obviously what Gingrich would end up doing. Plus, why would Romney want to lend any credibility to Newt, when the Obama campaign has already started using the former Speaker’s own words in its anti-Romney attack ads? It’s probably best for the GOP if Gingrich sits the rest of this game out.

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Gingrich Out, But What’s Next?

Newt Gingrich will officially drop out of the race next Tuesday, but he’s already cut his supporters loose. Rick Perry endorsed Mitt Romney last night, and Gingrich’s campaign says he’ll follow suit. But how much of a role will the Republican Party want to give Gingrich, after his harsh attacks on Romney and excessively-long campaign? According to Politico, it might be next to nothing:

“I think [he’s] unlikely to get even a non-prime slot to slash at Obama in Tampa,” former Gingrich-turned-Rick-Perry adviser Dave Carney said. “It’s quite possible that the Romney folks will want to focus on the future and move quickly away from the primary. Time will tell if the speaker gets his own speed-dial number at the surrogate operation in Boston this fall.” …

“Whatever talents he can put forth, he’s offered up,” [Gingrich spokesman R.C.] Hammond said.

The former House speaker is also starting to talk with congressional, gubernatorial and other local candidates about making campaign appearances throughout the fall, Hammond said, adding that in parts of the country, Gingrich still has star power.

“You’ll see him right at the head of the charge of this party as we try to take back the U.S. Senate,” Hammond said.

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Newt Gingrich will officially drop out of the race next Tuesday, but he’s already cut his supporters loose. Rick Perry endorsed Mitt Romney last night, and Gingrich’s campaign says he’ll follow suit. But how much of a role will the Republican Party want to give Gingrich, after his harsh attacks on Romney and excessively-long campaign? According to Politico, it might be next to nothing:

“I think [he’s] unlikely to get even a non-prime slot to slash at Obama in Tampa,” former Gingrich-turned-Rick-Perry adviser Dave Carney said. “It’s quite possible that the Romney folks will want to focus on the future and move quickly away from the primary. Time will tell if the speaker gets his own speed-dial number at the surrogate operation in Boston this fall.” …

“Whatever talents he can put forth, he’s offered up,” [Gingrich spokesman R.C.] Hammond said.

The former House speaker is also starting to talk with congressional, gubernatorial and other local candidates about making campaign appearances throughout the fall, Hammond said, adding that in parts of the country, Gingrich still has star power.

“You’ll see him right at the head of the charge of this party as we try to take back the U.S. Senate,” Hammond said.

Which part of the country is Gingrich uniquely qualified to help Romney, beyond maybe Georgia, which is no longer relevant at this point? If the Romney campaign decides not to give the former speaker a role – and they have plenty of reasons not to, including Gingrich’s penchant for controversy and his past nastiness toward Romney – it’s no real loss for them. Romney certainly doesn’t need him. And imagine if Gingrich is given a surrogate position, and then decides to go off the reservation and take a gratuitous swipe at Romney during an interview. That’s not unrealistic, and it’s a risk for the campaign.

If Gingrich had cashed out in early March, after he won Georgia, he would be a better position than he is today. That would have shown he had some handle on reality. At this point, if he gets sidelined, he has his own ambition to blame.

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Gingrich Finally Exiting the Race?

Via First Read, Newt Gingrich finally seems to be moving toward the door, weeks after Mitt Romney cemented himself as the presumptive nominee:

“I think we need to take a deep look at what we are doing,” Gingrich told NBC News in an exclusive interview on Monday. “We will be in North Carolina tomorrow night and we will look and see what the results are.”

He acknowledged that he would have to “reassess” his campaign depending on how he fares in Delaware, a winner-take-all state with 17 delegates at stake.

“This has been a good opportunity for us, we have been here seeing a lot of people,” Gingrich said. “We have got really positive responses and I would hope we would do well here – either carry it or come very, very close.”

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Via First Read, Newt Gingrich finally seems to be moving toward the door, weeks after Mitt Romney cemented himself as the presumptive nominee:

“I think we need to take a deep look at what we are doing,” Gingrich told NBC News in an exclusive interview on Monday. “We will be in North Carolina tomorrow night and we will look and see what the results are.”

He acknowledged that he would have to “reassess” his campaign depending on how he fares in Delaware, a winner-take-all state with 17 delegates at stake.

“This has been a good opportunity for us, we have been here seeing a lot of people,” Gingrich said. “We have got really positive responses and I would hope we would do well here – either carry it or come very, very close.”

Tonight’s primaries were supposed to be Rick Santorum’s last stand, but now that he’s out of the picture, they’re no longer a news story. Since Santorum suspended his candidacy, the focus has been on the general election, and without media attention there’s really no point for Gingrich to keep his campaign going. The conservatives who wanted to stretch out the primary race – Sarah Palin chief among them – have been drowned out by the general Republican acceptance of Romney as the presumptive nominee.

But while it would be pointless for Gingrich to continue his campaign, he hasn’t completely backed off from his unrealistic argument that Romney is still beatable:

“Gov. Romney is clearly the frontrunner but that doesn’t mean he is inevitable,” Gingrich told a roughly 50 person crowd inside the Delaware GOP headquarters. “It is very dangerous for frontrunners to start behaving like they are inevitable because the voters might decide that’s not so true. Frankly, I think it is a mistake for Romney to kick-off his general election campaign tomorrow in New Hampshire. He has about half the votes he needs to be nominated.”

Why does Gingrich continue to make these claims when it’s clear the rest of the world has moved on from the primary horserace? Maybe he’s just invested so much in his message that he feels he can’t let it go so easily. Maybe he’s still vying for some sort of deal with Romney, as unlikely as that would be right now. Or maybe he has his eye on a prime speaking role at the convention, and thinks that if he holds onto enough of his supporters for long enough, he’ll have a better chance of getting one. That last prospect seems like the most likely. Even if Gingrich manages to win in Delaware tonight, it doesn’t matter. The primary is over, and at this point the best he can hope for is a nice consolation spot at the convention.

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The Gingrich Sideshow Needs to Exit the Carnival

Anyone who thought Rick Santorum’s dramatic suspension of his presidential campaign would cause Newt Gingrich to fall into line and give up his own quixotic quest for the Republican nomination doesn’t understand the former Speaker of the House. Gingrich may have acknowledged that Mitt Romney was the likely GOP nominee in an interview just this past Sunday on Fox News, but he reacted to the Santorum announcement as if it was an opportunity by asking the senator’s supporters to jump over to his camp. Though it is unlikely that not many will join a cause that was lost months ago, this was all the excuse Gingrich needed to resume his pointless candidacy.

While there was a moment back during the winter when the withdrawal of either Gingrich or Santorum would have had an impact on the GOP race, that boat sailed sometime in February. Gingrich lost the contest for the title of the leading conservative “not Romney” to Santorum but has been hanging around giving the impression he has nothing better to do with his life than attempt to masquerade as a credible candidate. While most Republicans understand that for all intents and purposes this is the first day of the general election campaign, for Gingrich it represents the hope that he can squeeze a little more attention out of an American public that has already demonstrated it is sick and tired of him.

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Anyone who thought Rick Santorum’s dramatic suspension of his presidential campaign would cause Newt Gingrich to fall into line and give up his own quixotic quest for the Republican nomination doesn’t understand the former Speaker of the House. Gingrich may have acknowledged that Mitt Romney was the likely GOP nominee in an interview just this past Sunday on Fox News, but he reacted to the Santorum announcement as if it was an opportunity by asking the senator’s supporters to jump over to his camp. Though it is unlikely that not many will join a cause that was lost months ago, this was all the excuse Gingrich needed to resume his pointless candidacy.

While there was a moment back during the winter when the withdrawal of either Gingrich or Santorum would have had an impact on the GOP race, that boat sailed sometime in February. Gingrich lost the contest for the title of the leading conservative “not Romney” to Santorum but has been hanging around giving the impression he has nothing better to do with his life than attempt to masquerade as a credible candidate. While most Republicans understand that for all intents and purposes this is the first day of the general election campaign, for Gingrich it represents the hope that he can squeeze a little more attention out of an American public that has already demonstrated it is sick and tired of him.

That any continuation of the Gingrich sideshow makes no sense has been apparent for months. His campaign has amassed $4.5 million in debt, according to reports. The situation is so bad that, as ABC News reported, a check written on March 27 by the campaign to secure his place on the ballot in Utah bounced when it was deposited by the state. This story, which comes after the news last week that the health care think tank started by Gingrich had filed for bankruptcy shows just how dire the former speaker’s finances are right now. Though he had divested himself of control of The Gingrich Group last year when he began his presidential run, the lion’s share of his net worth derives from a promissory note from the think tank that has gone bust.

Republicans need to spend the upcoming months preparing for the fall election and shoring up the unity of a party that Gingrich has done much to divide with attacks on Romney from both the right and the left. Any time spent in the next few months on a futile campaign or an effort to have an impact on the Republican convention or platform (Gingrich may be the last person on the planet who thinks those documents have any value or are worth fighting about) will distract Gingrich from his main task of the moment: paying off his campaign debt. While Republicans may wish him good luck in that task, it’s time for the reconstituted Gingrich sideshow to exit the carnival.

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Gingrich, Santorum Now Mostly a Sideshow

As Alana noted earlier, there’s a lot of talk about Rick Santorum pulling off the campaign trail for several days, that he’s reassessing his campaign, and that there might even be a Santorum-Gingrich “unity effort” to try to stop Mitt Romney from winning the GOP nomination.

Count me among those who believe that what Santorum decides doesn’t matter all that much.

I say that because the race is decided, even if it’s not officially over. Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. Reporters have stopped covering Newt Gingrich, and they will become increasingly uninterested in what Santorum says. And Governor Romney is wisely focusing all his attention on President Obama rather than his GOP opponents. So even if Santorum stays in the race, the dynamic has fundamentally shifted. The only way Santorum can get much attention is by increasingly shrill attacks on the person who has, in a long and fair contest, soundly defeated him. And that will hurt Santorum even more than Romney. Even now, Santorum’s complaints about the GOP “establishment” and its “aristocracy” seem out of touch. (People like Jim DeMint, Ron Johnson, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan hardly qualify as RINOs.)

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As Alana noted earlier, there’s a lot of talk about Rick Santorum pulling off the campaign trail for several days, that he’s reassessing his campaign, and that there might even be a Santorum-Gingrich “unity effort” to try to stop Mitt Romney from winning the GOP nomination.

Count me among those who believe that what Santorum decides doesn’t matter all that much.

I say that because the race is decided, even if it’s not officially over. Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. Reporters have stopped covering Newt Gingrich, and they will become increasingly uninterested in what Santorum says. And Governor Romney is wisely focusing all his attention on President Obama rather than his GOP opponents. So even if Santorum stays in the race, the dynamic has fundamentally shifted. The only way Santorum can get much attention is by increasingly shrill attacks on the person who has, in a long and fair contest, soundly defeated him. And that will hurt Santorum even more than Romney. Even now, Santorum’s complaints about the GOP “establishment” and its “aristocracy” seem out of touch. (People like Jim DeMint, Ron Johnson, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan hardly qualify as RINOs.)

Rick Santorum did better than anyone, including probably Santorum himself, thought possible. He ended up second (albeit in a historically weak field of challengers to Romney). And he has undone much of the damage, and the memory, of his 18-point defeat in 2006. But at this stage, the outcome of the November election will not hinge on what the former Pennsylvania senator does. It would be better for the Republican Party, its eventual nominee, and Santorum’s future if he exited the stage (a primary loss in his home state would bring back the ghosts of 2006 in a hurry).

But Santorum, like Gingrich before him, is increasingly irrelevant. Governor Romney has the spotlight, the (de facto) nomination, and the party behind him. We’ve reached the point where his GOP opponents are more or less a sideshow.

 

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Desperate Times…A Unity Ticket?

Desperate times call for desperate measures:

Rick Santorum is reassessing his campaign strategy this weekend, but he’s still committed to stopping Mitt Romney.

“BREAKING NEWS: Santo meeting in Virginia now w conservative leaders,” Time’s Mark Halperin tweeted. “Talk re the path forward, Santo-Newt unity effort to stop Romney.” Translation: Santorum meeting in Virginia now with conservative leaders. They are talking about the path forward, a Santorum-Newt unity effort to stop Romney.

Halperin added that a “Santor[um] source, responding to speculation: ‘He is NOT dropping out before Pennsylvania.’ [Meeting is about the] best way to proceed, not whether to.”

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Desperate times call for desperate measures:

Rick Santorum is reassessing his campaign strategy this weekend, but he’s still committed to stopping Mitt Romney.

“BREAKING NEWS: Santo meeting in Virginia now w conservative leaders,” Time’s Mark Halperin tweeted. “Talk re the path forward, Santo-Newt unity effort to stop Romney.” Translation: Santorum meeting in Virginia now with conservative leaders. They are talking about the path forward, a Santorum-Newt unity effort to stop Romney.

Halperin added that a “Santor[um] source, responding to speculation: ‘He is NOT dropping out before Pennsylvania.’ [Meeting is about the] best way to proceed, not whether to.”

There have been rumors about a Santorum-Gingrich unity ticket before, but they always seemed highly unlikely for two reasons. The first was that Santorum would be taking a very big risk by promising Newt the VP slot, especially back when he had a chance to win the nomination cleanly and pick a more practical running mate, i.e., Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan. The second obstacle was Gingrich’s main bankroller, Sheldon Adelson, who has made it pretty clear he’s not a Santorum fan.

The difference now is that Santorum and Gingrich are both in much more dire straits than they were a month or two ago. Santorum has no chance of winning the nomination outright, and even in the highly unlikely scenario that he did, most of the names on the vice presidential short list have endorsed and campaigned for Romney.

Adelson has also said Gingrich is at the “end of his line” in the race. If the clock is running out on Adelson’s support for Gingrich, the former speaker has much less to lose by teaming up with Santorum.

Of course, if such a deal were actually to happen, Gingrich and Santorum would become the scourge of the Republican establishment (at least more so than they are already). And at this point, their chances of winning with a unity ticket aren’t much better than without a unity ticket.  For someone like Santorum with future presidential aspirations, it doesn’t seem like the wisest move in the long run.

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Why Did Santorum Refuse RNC Offer?

As Alana noted earlier, Mitt Romney will be taking time out of his primary schedule to fundraise with and for the Republican National Committee (RNC). According to the RNC, this fundraising opportunity was offered to every candidate, however, Romney was the only one to accept the offer. The Wall Street Journal reported, “In a move that shows Republicans are coalescing around the party’s front-runner, Mitt Romney plans to begin raising money jointly with the Republican National Committee this week as both the candidate and the GOP brace for an expensive general-election fight against President Barack Obama.” This doesn’t seem to be the case, however, as the Republican group offered to do the same with Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

Why might Santorum (and for that matter Gingrich) have refused the opportunity to take up the RNC’s offer? Each candidate, when fundraising alone, is unable to raise more than $2,500 per donor for their primary and general election campaigns. Fundraising with the RNC means that individual donors can give up to $75,000 to not only the campaigns of specific candidates but also toward the RNC and the state-level parties in swing states. The caveat for the candidate fundraisers is this: the money raised in excess of the $2,500 goes only toward the eventual nominee. If Santorum or Gingrich took time out of their schedules to fundraise with and for the RNC and did not become the nominee, the money they raised goes to the nominee, not back to their campaigns to pay off outstanding debts or serve as a starting off point for a future run.

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As Alana noted earlier, Mitt Romney will be taking time out of his primary schedule to fundraise with and for the Republican National Committee (RNC). According to the RNC, this fundraising opportunity was offered to every candidate, however, Romney was the only one to accept the offer. The Wall Street Journal reported, “In a move that shows Republicans are coalescing around the party’s front-runner, Mitt Romney plans to begin raising money jointly with the Republican National Committee this week as both the candidate and the GOP brace for an expensive general-election fight against President Barack Obama.” This doesn’t seem to be the case, however, as the Republican group offered to do the same with Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

Why might Santorum (and for that matter Gingrich) have refused the opportunity to take up the RNC’s offer? Each candidate, when fundraising alone, is unable to raise more than $2,500 per donor for their primary and general election campaigns. Fundraising with the RNC means that individual donors can give up to $75,000 to not only the campaigns of specific candidates but also toward the RNC and the state-level parties in swing states. The caveat for the candidate fundraisers is this: the money raised in excess of the $2,500 goes only toward the eventual nominee. If Santorum or Gingrich took time out of their schedules to fundraise with and for the RNC and did not become the nominee, the money they raised goes to the nominee, not back to their campaigns to pay off outstanding debts or serve as a starting off point for a future run.

If Santorum or Gingrich believed they were going to clinch the nomination this time around, taking a few days out of their campaigning schedule to raise this amount of cash would be a no-brainer (it certainly was for Romney). The fact that Santorum and Gingrich turned down the opportunity means that in all likelihood, even they don’t believe they’ll be the nominee. They either don’t want Romney to get the cash they’ve raised or they believe their campaigns couldn’t survive even a day or two out of the news cycle to attend the fundraisers.

While one can’t fault Santorum or Gingrich for prioritizing their own campaigns while the race is still ongoing, their refusal to raise this kind of cash speaks volumes about where their campaigns see the future of this primary season going.

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Adelson: Newt’s “At the End of His Line”

Billionaire casino-mogul Sheldon Adelson is still defending Newt Gingrich as the best candidate in the field, but it sounds like he may be getting ready to move on now that Gingrich’s chances at the nomination have evaporated.

“I mean, it appears as if he’s at the end of his line,” Adelson said at a Jewish Federation event, according to video posted by the Jewish Journal. “Because mathematically he can’t get anywhere near the numbers, and it’s unlikely to be a brokered convention.”

But Adelson also didn’t sound impressed by either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum. He compared Romney to President Obama when he was in the Senate, saying he simply isn’t decisive enough.

“I’ve talked to Romney many, many times,” said Adelson. “Everything I’ve said to Mitt, he’s said, ‘Let me look into.’ So he’s like Obama. When Obama was in the Illinois senate, 186 times he voted present. Because he didn’t want to damage his record.”

The billionaire had even harsher words for Santorum.

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Billionaire casino-mogul Sheldon Adelson is still defending Newt Gingrich as the best candidate in the field, but it sounds like he may be getting ready to move on now that Gingrich’s chances at the nomination have evaporated.

“I mean, it appears as if he’s at the end of his line,” Adelson said at a Jewish Federation event, according to video posted by the Jewish Journal. “Because mathematically he can’t get anywhere near the numbers, and it’s unlikely to be a brokered convention.”

But Adelson also didn’t sound impressed by either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum. He compared Romney to President Obama when he was in the Senate, saying he simply isn’t decisive enough.

“I’ve talked to Romney many, many times,” said Adelson. “Everything I’ve said to Mitt, he’s said, ‘Let me look into.’ So he’s like Obama. When Obama was in the Illinois senate, 186 times he voted present. Because he didn’t want to damage his record.”

The billionaire had even harsher words for Santorum.

“This man has no history whatsoever of creating anything or taking risks. Now that being said, I know Rick. I like him. We’re friendly. But I got to tell you something, I don’t want him running my country.”

Adelson also said he’d talked to both Gingrich and Romney about potentially coming to a deal to run on the same ticket. He said Gingrich told him that would go against his strategy, and Romney didn’t give him a direct answer.

It makes you wonder whether that sort of deal was raised at the secret meeting Romney and Gingrich reportedly had on Saturday. The Washington Times reports Gingrich made no deal to end his bid, but just the fact that there was a meeting suggests that may have been on the table:

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich met secretly with GOP rival Mitt Romney on Saturday, according to a source close to the campaign, but the former House speaker says he has made no deal to end his bid for the GOP nomination.

Mr. Gingrich, responding to questions from the Washington Times, did not deny the meeting, but explicitly said he hasn’t been offered a position in a potential Romney administration in exchange for dropping out.

Nor, he said, is there a deal to have Mr. Romney’s big donors help retire Mr. Gingrich’s campaign debt of more than $1 million.

As Gingrich’s primary financial backer indicated, his campaign has no realistic path to the nomination at this point. The former speaker already announced yesterday that he’s running out of money and downsizing his staff. While a few weeks ago, he may have been able to cut a deal with Santorum or Romney to either act as a spoiler in the race or drop out, and at this point, he has basically nothing to offer either of them. The idea that Romney would promise Gingrich a position or even pay down his debt seems incredibly unlikely.

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Romney Juggernaut Sets Up GOP Endgame

After the walloping they took last night in Illinois, Rick Santorum’s supporters are hopeful that the next stop on the Republican primary calendar will cheer them up. Santorum is favored to win Saturday’s Louisiana Primary but that won’t change the fact that on Tuesday, he lost one of his last chances to win a state whose GOP is not dominated by evangelicals. The 47-35 percent beating he took in Illinois — which allowed Romney to win all but a handful of the state’s convention delegates — does more than merely reinforce the sense of Romney’s inevitability that is now acknowledged by all but the most diehard of his opponents’ supporters. The pattern of voting is such that there is now no longer any credible scenario that can be put forward in which Romney is denied a majority of the convention’s delegates by June.

Though the race will go on for at least another month, for the first time in this long and tortuous race, the end is clearly in sight. The April 24 Pennsylvania primary now looks to be an opportunity for Romney to close out his opponent by beating him in his home state. But even if Santorum can hold onto Pennsylvania, the May 8 trio of North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia may be his last stand especially since Romney is likely to win most of the states that vote in April. The delegate math makes it impossible for Santorum to pretend that he can actually win the nomination on his own. Not even the complete collapse of Newt Gingrich’s candidacy — the former speaker finished dead last in the field of four behind Ron Paul — has been enough to prevent the frontrunner from assuming a commanding lead that will not be overtaken.

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After the walloping they took last night in Illinois, Rick Santorum’s supporters are hopeful that the next stop on the Republican primary calendar will cheer them up. Santorum is favored to win Saturday’s Louisiana Primary but that won’t change the fact that on Tuesday, he lost one of his last chances to win a state whose GOP is not dominated by evangelicals. The 47-35 percent beating he took in Illinois — which allowed Romney to win all but a handful of the state’s convention delegates — does more than merely reinforce the sense of Romney’s inevitability that is now acknowledged by all but the most diehard of his opponents’ supporters. The pattern of voting is such that there is now no longer any credible scenario that can be put forward in which Romney is denied a majority of the convention’s delegates by June.

Though the race will go on for at least another month, for the first time in this long and tortuous race, the end is clearly in sight. The April 24 Pennsylvania primary now looks to be an opportunity for Romney to close out his opponent by beating him in his home state. But even if Santorum can hold onto Pennsylvania, the May 8 trio of North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia may be his last stand especially since Romney is likely to win most of the states that vote in April. The delegate math makes it impossible for Santorum to pretend that he can actually win the nomination on his own. Not even the complete collapse of Newt Gingrich’s candidacy — the former speaker finished dead last in the field of four behind Ron Paul — has been enough to prevent the frontrunner from assuming a commanding lead that will not be overtaken.

It is true that Romney is still losing among evangelical and very conservative GOP primary voters. But he is winning virtually every other demographic slice of the electorate including Tea Party supporters. While not being acclaimed with acclamation or even a great deal of enthusiasm, the notion that Republicans are unwilling to embrace Romney may be finally being put to rest. Those voting in GOP primaries continue to assert that the ability to beat President Obama in November is the most desirable quality in a candidate and there’s little doubt that Romney has the best chance of any Republican in the race.

Romney also appears to be hitting his stride as a candidate finally articulating a compelling case for his candidacy. His victory speech last focused on the theme of economic freedom rather than merely his usual laundry list of complaints about the president. If he can stay on that message, it will help him win over doubtful conservatives as well as reminding the rest of the electorate of his economic qualifications.

Though Santorum and Gingrich continue to complain about Romney’s huge financial advantage that excuse is also not exactly galvanizing the Republican base. The inability to raise the funds needed to compete or to run a campaign that is competent enough to file qualified delegate states wherever needed — points on which both challengers have fallen short — is hardly a recommendation for a presidential candidate. Even if Santorum is able to duplicate in Louisiana the same appeal that won him Mississippi and Alabama last week, that won’t convince anyone that he can win states with more diverse electorates, let alone amass enough delegates to prevent Romney from gaining a majority by June.

This sets up a GOP endgame in which Santorum, who has done far better than anyone ever thought possible last year, will play out the hand he has been dealt in the next few weeks. But there are few, if any, other wins waiting for him on the calendar. That will raise expectations that whether or not he wins Pennsylvania, his campaign will probably come to an end in the next four to six weeks.

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Asking the Wrong Question About Gingrich

For weeks, pundits have been wondering when Newt Gingrich will admit that he’s licked and give up his presidential campaign. After losses in Mississippi and Alabama last week — which were probably the last states in which he could have been said to have a decent chance of victory — many wrongly assumed that he would draw the proper conclusions and withdraw. But he hasn’t and despite abysmal poll ratings, there’s no sign that he will. Why? Politico offers a reasonable answer: He’s having too good a time running.

The piece, titled “New Gingrich’s Twin Campaigns,” poses the contradiction between the happy warrior on the hustings and the financial realities of an enterprise that appears to have gone bust months ago. While vendors, staffers and consultants are being stiffed for their expenses and salaries, the candidate and his wife are enjoying what the article aptly calls “Newt and Callista’s Excellent Adventure,” in which they combine fine dining, numerous visits to zoos (Newt’s favorite pastime) and other site-seeing activities with speeches before increasingly sparse audiences. Viewed in this light, the Gingrich campaign appears to be more of a paid vacation for the happy couple than a quixotic quest for the presidency. Under these circumstances, we can expect him to keep running as long as there is enough money in the till to pay for hotels and restaurant tabs.

The political calculus that outside observers have tried to use to determine Gingrich’s intentions appears to have no relation at all to his decision-making process. Gingrich is smart enough to know he can’t win but seems oblivious to the impact of his continued presence in the race on the other candidates. Though his animus for Mitt Romney is obvious, rather than seeing him as a conservative whose priority was to stop the frontrunner in the way that Rick Santorum’s effort has been pitched, it might be more apt to see him in the same light as the far more marginal Ron Paul.

Paul’s continued run has nothing to do with the practicalities of the race or whether he will win or lose. He’s running to promote his extremist libertarian ideology and can be expected to keep going until the nomination of another candidate forces him to stop. Gingrich is also being propelled by a personal agenda rather than political strategy. The only difference is that Gingrich’s personal agenda is about Gingrich and nothing else. Despite his talk about his wish list of presidential initiatives that he will undertake in the event he is elected, Gingrich has been running for the fun of being in the race and little else.

The only thing that could force him to get off the road is if he runs out of money. Since his campaign is using all available cash to fund the Newt and Callista tour, it’s possible there’s enough to keep him on his long vacation for some time to come. However the day will come when the piper will have to be paid and one imagines that Gingrich is counting on some of the wealthy friends that have helped finance him so far to step in after the fact and pay off what may prove to be an onerous campaign debt. Candidates are personally responsible for these debts. That’s why most drop out quickly once it is clear they can’t win since they dread spending the next decade desperately fundraising to pay for an effort that has already failed.

While Newt and Callista are having a great time, one wonders if it is has occurred to her that if he really intends to keep it up until the September convention, she may have to pawn some of those trinkets that Newt bought for her at Tiffany’s.

For weeks, pundits have been wondering when Newt Gingrich will admit that he’s licked and give up his presidential campaign. After losses in Mississippi and Alabama last week — which were probably the last states in which he could have been said to have a decent chance of victory — many wrongly assumed that he would draw the proper conclusions and withdraw. But he hasn’t and despite abysmal poll ratings, there’s no sign that he will. Why? Politico offers a reasonable answer: He’s having too good a time running.

The piece, titled “New Gingrich’s Twin Campaigns,” poses the contradiction between the happy warrior on the hustings and the financial realities of an enterprise that appears to have gone bust months ago. While vendors, staffers and consultants are being stiffed for their expenses and salaries, the candidate and his wife are enjoying what the article aptly calls “Newt and Callista’s Excellent Adventure,” in which they combine fine dining, numerous visits to zoos (Newt’s favorite pastime) and other site-seeing activities with speeches before increasingly sparse audiences. Viewed in this light, the Gingrich campaign appears to be more of a paid vacation for the happy couple than a quixotic quest for the presidency. Under these circumstances, we can expect him to keep running as long as there is enough money in the till to pay for hotels and restaurant tabs.

The political calculus that outside observers have tried to use to determine Gingrich’s intentions appears to have no relation at all to his decision-making process. Gingrich is smart enough to know he can’t win but seems oblivious to the impact of his continued presence in the race on the other candidates. Though his animus for Mitt Romney is obvious, rather than seeing him as a conservative whose priority was to stop the frontrunner in the way that Rick Santorum’s effort has been pitched, it might be more apt to see him in the same light as the far more marginal Ron Paul.

Paul’s continued run has nothing to do with the practicalities of the race or whether he will win or lose. He’s running to promote his extremist libertarian ideology and can be expected to keep going until the nomination of another candidate forces him to stop. Gingrich is also being propelled by a personal agenda rather than political strategy. The only difference is that Gingrich’s personal agenda is about Gingrich and nothing else. Despite his talk about his wish list of presidential initiatives that he will undertake in the event he is elected, Gingrich has been running for the fun of being in the race and little else.

The only thing that could force him to get off the road is if he runs out of money. Since his campaign is using all available cash to fund the Newt and Callista tour, it’s possible there’s enough to keep him on his long vacation for some time to come. However the day will come when the piper will have to be paid and one imagines that Gingrich is counting on some of the wealthy friends that have helped finance him so far to step in after the fact and pay off what may prove to be an onerous campaign debt. Candidates are personally responsible for these debts. That’s why most drop out quickly once it is clear they can’t win since they dread spending the next decade desperately fundraising to pay for an effort that has already failed.

While Newt and Callista are having a great time, one wonders if it is has occurred to her that if he really intends to keep it up until the September convention, she may have to pawn some of those trinkets that Newt bought for her at Tiffany’s.

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Poll: Romney Poised for Landslide in Illinois

According to Public Policy Polling’s latest survey today, Mitt Romney is now leading Rick Santorum, 45 percent to 30 percent, in Illinois. And the obstacles aren’t easily surmountable for Santorum. Not only is Romney polling ahead with groups he normally tends to do poorly with – rural voters, for example – but Santorum’s support is lagging with groups he needs to win. In this case, Tea Partiers and values voters:

Santorum’s winning the group he tends to do well with- Tea Partiers, Evangelicals, and those describing themselves as ‘very conservative.’ But he’s not winning them by the kinds of wide margins he would need to take an overall victory- he’s up only 8 with Tea Party voters and 10 with Evangelicals, groups he needs to win by more like 25 points with to hope to win in a northern state.

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According to Public Policy Polling’s latest survey today, Mitt Romney is now leading Rick Santorum, 45 percent to 30 percent, in Illinois. And the obstacles aren’t easily surmountable for Santorum. Not only is Romney polling ahead with groups he normally tends to do poorly with – rural voters, for example – but Santorum’s support is lagging with groups he needs to win. In this case, Tea Partiers and values voters:

Santorum’s winning the group he tends to do well with- Tea Partiers, Evangelicals, and those describing themselves as ‘very conservative.’ But he’s not winning them by the kinds of wide margins he would need to take an overall victory- he’s up only 8 with Tea Party voters and 10 with Evangelicals, groups he needs to win by more like 25 points with to hope to win in a northern state.

One reason could be Santorum’s perceived lack of expertise on economic issues, which Romney has begun emphasizing on the trail this week:

“I don’t think we’re going to replace an economic lightweight with another economic lightweight,” Romney said yesterday at the Machine Shed Restaurant in Rockford, Illinois, referring to Santorum, 53, and the president. “To beat Barack Obama, it’s going to take someone who understands the economy in his bones, and I do, and I will beat him with that understanding.”

The polling data is a sign that the seemingly-interminable race may finally be winding down soon. If Romney is able to lock up a strong victory, he’ll begin to rebuild the narrative of his inevitability, and the calls for party unity and the end of the infighting of the primary season will start up again in earnest. Of course, Santorum has outperformed polls in the past, so there’s certainly a chance he could do so again tomorrow.

Then again, while a Santorum victory tomorrow would extend the race, how far would it take him toward his ultimate goal of winning the nomination? Barring a game-changing miracle, his chance of becoming the nominee is still slim, as Nate Silver writes:

If Mr. Santorum were a little closer to Mr. Romney (say that he had qualified for the ballot in Virginia and won the state) and the allocation rules in the remaining states were a little more favorable to him (say that Texas was winner-take-all rather than proportional), perhaps the small-ball strategy would be worth pursing.

But he is far enough behind that he instead needs a “game change” — something that fundamentally alters the dynamics of the race and allows him to substantially improve on his benchmarks from previous states. …

Mr. Santorum’s odds of winning his campaign are nowhere near that good; the betting market Intrade, instead, now gives him just a 3 percent chance to win the nomination. His campaign is in more need of a game change than Mr. McCain’s ever was, and has even less to lose from high-risk strategies.

The most obvious game-changer would be if Newt Gingrich agreed to drop out and hand over his delegates to Santorum. Gingrich has been splitting the conservative vote, and if Santorum loses by a significant margin tomorrow night, Gingrich will likely get a good portion of the blame. But PPP found that even with Gingrich out of the race, Santorum would still trail Romney by 11 points, which suggests that Santorum’s problems may be more substantial.

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Newt Gingrich, Miracle Worker

The Wall Street Journal reports on Newt Gingrich, who is in Illinois once again comparing himself favorably to Ronald Reagan. “Other than Ronald Reagan, I know of no Republican in my lifetime who’s been able to talk like this,” Gingrich told a banquet crowd in Palatine, referring to his own policy ideas on energy, brain science and other matters. “That’s why I’m still running, because the gap is so huge.”

The Journal goes on to say, “If Mr. Gingrich has failed to capture the party’s imagination in his bid for its presidential nomination, he says, it isn’t his fault. He offers big ideas, but ‘the news media can’t cover it, and my opponents can’t comprehend it,’’ he says.”

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The Wall Street Journal reports on Newt Gingrich, who is in Illinois once again comparing himself favorably to Ronald Reagan. “Other than Ronald Reagan, I know of no Republican in my lifetime who’s been able to talk like this,” Gingrich told a banquet crowd in Palatine, referring to his own policy ideas on energy, brain science and other matters. “That’s why I’m still running, because the gap is so huge.”

The Journal goes on to say, “If Mr. Gingrich has failed to capture the party’s imagination in his bid for its presidential nomination, he says, it isn’t his fault. He offers big ideas, but ‘the news media can’t cover it, and my opponents can’t comprehend it,’’ he says.”

That sounds to me to be a bit of an exaggeration. But just for fun, let’s assume Gingrich is as monumental a political figure, and as hyper-intelligent a person, as he believes. Let’s assume he is the only person in nearly 70 years who is Reagan’s equal in terms of brilliance, mastery of the issues, and in his ability to articulate a conservative vision.

If that’s the case, the obvious next question is what explains the fact that Gingrich has won just two out of 31 nominating contests so far? If he’s as good on policy and vision as he says, the only reasonable explanation is that Gingrich’s deficits must be monumental. Because how on earth could you keep Gingrich’s unparalleled gifts and talents under a bushel? It cannot be easy – but Newt Gingrich has somehow found the way to make himself unappealing to the vast majority of Republican voters.

The man must be a miracle worker.

 

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Gingrich Helping Romney in Illinois

The latest surveys of Illinois Republicans ought to put at least a bit of a damper on the growing speculation about a GOP stalemate leading to a brokered convention. The Fox Chicago News poll shows Mitt Romney holding onto a solid 37-31 percentage point lead over Rick Santorum in next Tuesday’s primary, with Newt Gingrich trailing badly at 14 percent. A new Rassmussen poll gives Romney an even bigger lead with a 41-32 percentage point lead with Gingrich also at 14 percent. Yet Romney, who is reportedly outspending Santorum in the state by a 5-1 margin, is taking no chances in Illinois. Nor should he. The Land of Lincoln may well be the last clear shot Santorum has to knock off the frontrunner in a major state where few thought he would have a chance to pull off an upset that could potentially alter the dynamic of the contest. Having narrowly failed to do so in Michigan and Ohio, Illinois is perhaps Santorum’s last opportunity on the primary calendar to show the party he can do more than just place a close second in a state where the GOP is not dominated by evangelicals.

Though Santorum, who has often outperformed his poll results (such as he did this past Tuesday in Mississippi and Alabama) is certainly still within striking range in Illinois, his biggest obstacle is not so much the deluge of Romney ad attacks (though that certainly doesn’t help his cause) as it is the decision of Newt Gingrich to stay in the race. Gingrich has spent the last couple of days promoting the idea that only by remaining on the ballot can Romney be denied the chance to gain a majority of the delegates before the convention. That’s a dubious notion that is being seconded by some Romney supporters seeking to stir the pot. But as in Michigan and Ohio, Gingrich’s only role is that of spoiler. Were he to get out now, it would give Santorum at the very least an extra few percentage points that may mean the difference between a stunning first place finish and another disappointing second place result that will have to be spun as a moral victory.

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The latest surveys of Illinois Republicans ought to put at least a bit of a damper on the growing speculation about a GOP stalemate leading to a brokered convention. The Fox Chicago News poll shows Mitt Romney holding onto a solid 37-31 percentage point lead over Rick Santorum in next Tuesday’s primary, with Newt Gingrich trailing badly at 14 percent. A new Rassmussen poll gives Romney an even bigger lead with a 41-32 percentage point lead with Gingrich also at 14 percent. Yet Romney, who is reportedly outspending Santorum in the state by a 5-1 margin, is taking no chances in Illinois. Nor should he. The Land of Lincoln may well be the last clear shot Santorum has to knock off the frontrunner in a major state where few thought he would have a chance to pull off an upset that could potentially alter the dynamic of the contest. Having narrowly failed to do so in Michigan and Ohio, Illinois is perhaps Santorum’s last opportunity on the primary calendar to show the party he can do more than just place a close second in a state where the GOP is not dominated by evangelicals.

Though Santorum, who has often outperformed his poll results (such as he did this past Tuesday in Mississippi and Alabama) is certainly still within striking range in Illinois, his biggest obstacle is not so much the deluge of Romney ad attacks (though that certainly doesn’t help his cause) as it is the decision of Newt Gingrich to stay in the race. Gingrich has spent the last couple of days promoting the idea that only by remaining on the ballot can Romney be denied the chance to gain a majority of the delegates before the convention. That’s a dubious notion that is being seconded by some Romney supporters seeking to stir the pot. But as in Michigan and Ohio, Gingrich’s only role is that of spoiler. Were he to get out now, it would give Santorum at the very least an extra few percentage points that may mean the difference between a stunning first place finish and another disappointing second place result that will have to be spun as a moral victory.

From the very beginning of the race, Romney has benefitted from a divided field that has enabled him to win victories he might never have achieved had he been left to face a single, credible conservative. It may be a matter of opinion whether Santorum qualifies as that person, but so long as Gingrich continues to muddy the conservative waters, it will be to Romney’s advantage.

Though observers are right to point out that Romney can ultimately win by piling up enough delegates even in states where he loses, the one real danger to his candidacy is for Santorum to rack up some upsets in states where he was thought to have no hope. Illinois is one such contest. Wisconsin, which is a winner-take-all primary in early April, is another. If Romney fails to win them, then he becomes prey to the sort of doubts that really could unravel his plans and lead to the brokered convention scenario that is a pundit’s fantasy and a GOP nightmare.

Gingrich may claim he is staying in to promote his “big ideas” agenda, but by allowing Romney to win a plurality in Illinois that he might not get without having another conservative in the race, Gingrich is sabotaging what might be Santorum’s last best chance to become the nominee. That is good news for Romney at a time when he needs to put together a winning streak that will convince his party he really is Mr. Inevitable.

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Gingrich Death Watch May Be on Hold

After Newt Gingrich’s defeats in Mississippi and Alabama this week, the expectation in some quarters was that the former speaker would realize  he had no hope to win the nomination and bow out of the race. Certainly that’s what Rick Santorum and his supporters were hoping. It would set up the one-on-one matchup with Mitt Romney that they think will give him a chance to turn the GOP race around. Though there have been signs some in Gingrich’s campaign are looking for the exit signs, the candidate is giving no indication he’s giving up yet. Last week, I came up with seven reasons why Gingrich won’t quit, and I think they are still valid. But apparently he has come up with another one to justify the continuation of his presidential run: staying in the race hurts Romney.

This seems counterintuitive as Gingrich’s presence on the ballot diverted a portion of the conservative vote away from Santorum and probably cost the Pennsylvanian first place finishes in Michigan and Ohio. It might do the same next week in Illinois, a primary that could be a turning point in the race should Santorum pull an upset. The idea put forward by Gingrich’s camp is that because the GOP’s rules this year have encouraged proportional delegate allocation, keeping the nomination battle a three-way race (not counting libertarian outlier Ron Paul who is polling in the single digits just about everywhere these days) means Romney will be deprived of the ability to rack up large delegate hauls, thus making it impossible for him to reach a majority before the convention. Though this is a weak argument, it may be all Gingrich requires to justify continuing his ego-gratifying presidential run.

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After Newt Gingrich’s defeats in Mississippi and Alabama this week, the expectation in some quarters was that the former speaker would realize  he had no hope to win the nomination and bow out of the race. Certainly that’s what Rick Santorum and his supporters were hoping. It would set up the one-on-one matchup with Mitt Romney that they think will give him a chance to turn the GOP race around. Though there have been signs some in Gingrich’s campaign are looking for the exit signs, the candidate is giving no indication he’s giving up yet. Last week, I came up with seven reasons why Gingrich won’t quit, and I think they are still valid. But apparently he has come up with another one to justify the continuation of his presidential run: staying in the race hurts Romney.

This seems counterintuitive as Gingrich’s presence on the ballot diverted a portion of the conservative vote away from Santorum and probably cost the Pennsylvanian first place finishes in Michigan and Ohio. It might do the same next week in Illinois, a primary that could be a turning point in the race should Santorum pull an upset. The idea put forward by Gingrich’s camp is that because the GOP’s rules this year have encouraged proportional delegate allocation, keeping the nomination battle a three-way race (not counting libertarian outlier Ron Paul who is polling in the single digits just about everywhere these days) means Romney will be deprived of the ability to rack up large delegate hauls, thus making it impossible for him to reach a majority before the convention. Though this is a weak argument, it may be all Gingrich requires to justify continuing his ego-gratifying presidential run.

This thesis is endorsed by Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chair who is largely responsible for this scheme in the first place and is rightly reviled by most in the GOP for doing so. Steele told the New York Times a Santorum-Gingrich double teaming of Romney would be a bigger burden to the frontrunner than a setup in which he was forced to confront a single conservative opponent.

There is, however, a fatal flaw in such thinking. After April 1, there are nearly as many winner-take-all primaries scheduled, including important races in Wisconsin and California, as there are proportional ones. Others will elect delegates on a winner-take-all basis by congressional district. In such states, Gingrich’s remaining on the ballot would almost certainly help Romney.

What Gingrich really seems to be hoping is that by staying in the race and accumulating more delegates even while losing he would increase his leverage if neither Romney nor Santorum secured enough votes to win the nomination on the first ballot. Though one could argue his leverage with Santorum will never be higher than it is today should he be willing to make a bargain of some sort with the Pennsylvanian, Gingrich’s dream scenario is really one where he could play the kingmaker at Tampa with Romney or with some theoretical dark horse who might emerge from a deadlock.

In a year where so much that was unexpected happened, we should all hesitate before scoffing at Gingrich’s reasoning. But this still seems to be more science fiction than political science. The plain fact of the situation is that unless Gingrich gets out and/or gets behind Santorum, the odds are Romney will wrap up the nomination by June. If Gingrich, who seems motivated as much by hatred for Romney as by his own ambition, seems to be working at cross purposes to his own interests, all we can say is anyone who remembers some of the bad judgment he showed in the speaker’s chair knows this wouldn’t be the first time he has done so.

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The GOP Race Remains Long, Hard Slog

The results from last night’s GOP primaries and caucuses – wins for Rick Santorum in Mississippi and Alabama and wins for Mitt Romney in Hawaii and American Samoa — simply confirmed some existing trends. It’s a two-man race.

Mitt Romney won the night in terms of delegates (41 v. 35 for Rick Santorum). Governor Romney remains the frontrunner, with a huge lead in total delegates (498 v. 239 for Santorum). He’s won 50 percent of all the delegates awarded to date and 45 percent of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination He’s also won more than a million more votes than Santorum during the course of the campaign so far.

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The results from last night’s GOP primaries and caucuses – wins for Rick Santorum in Mississippi and Alabama and wins for Mitt Romney in Hawaii and American Samoa — simply confirmed some existing trends. It’s a two-man race.

Mitt Romney won the night in terms of delegates (41 v. 35 for Rick Santorum). Governor Romney remains the frontrunner, with a huge lead in total delegates (498 v. 239 for Santorum). He’s won 50 percent of all the delegates awarded to date and 45 percent of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination He’s also won more than a million more votes than Santorum during the course of the campaign so far.

As Jonathan noted earlier, Romney has still failed to win over the conservative base of his party. He continues to have difficulty winning support of evangelicals and blue collar, lower-income, and less-educated people. While admittedly playing “away from home,” the former Massachusetts governor – despite a huge money advantage – once again missed a chance to deliver something close to a knock-out blow to his main rival, Santorum. And so the race remains a long, hard slog, with a decreasing likelihood that things will be settled before June 26 (the date of the last election, in Utah).

Rick Santorum, with two impressive wins in Mississippi and Alabama (where he was trailing in polls just before the votes were cast), lives to fight another day. Santorum did well among very conservative voters, evangelicals, and members of the Tea Party. He emerges from last night energized and renewed in spirit, hoping he gets what he desperately wants and needs: a one-on-one contest with Romney.

As others have pointed out, Newt Gingrich had another very bad night, losing in a region he ought to own. (His spokesman R.C. Hammond had called both Alabama and Mississippi “must wins” for his candidate. Those words have been rendered inoperative.) Yet Gingrich seems committed to stay in the race, at least based on his comments last evening. It’s not entirely clear why he should. As Bill Kristol points out, Gingrich has lost 20 out of 24 races in which both Gingrich and Santorum have both been on the ballot. All told, Gingrich has won only two states during the course of two-and-a-half months. He’s had ample opportunities to convince the GOP electorate that he rather than Santorum ought to be the conservative alternative to Romney. But the voters have sided, in an overwhelming fashion, with Santorum over Gingrich. Santorum has now bested Gingrich in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi — all states that Gingrich, if he were a viable nominee, should have won. The former speaker’s rage at Mitt Romney is palpable; and yet by staying in the race, Gingrich is helping the former Massachusetts governor by splitting the non-Romney vote. (CNBC’s John Harwood reports that based on a conversation he had with a friend of Sheldon Adelson, the casino owner may have written his last check for Gingrich’s super PAC, which would be a devastating blow to Gingrich.)

If Mississippi and Alabama were must wins for Santorum, then Illinois becomes extremely significant for Romney. If he fails in the contest there next Tuesday, in a state he should prevail in, then the doubts around his candidacy, which have never gone away, will only grow, even as his chances of winning the nomination in the first round of balloting shrink.

The fundamental dynamics of the race didn’t change last night. Mitt Romney continues to roll on, amassing delegates even as he loses contests, doing enough to remain the dominant leader but not enough to seal the deal. Any hopes for an early resolution to the contest is long gone. Like Democrats in 2008, this race will last until (in all likelihood) late June. Mitt Romney will almost surely arrive at the convention in Tampa with the most delegates, though he may not have the 1,144 he needs to wrap up the nomination. If that happens, he would remain the favorite to win. But the convention could end up being much more interesting and dramatic than Romney and his advisers had ever hoped it would be.

 

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What Can Santorum Offer Gingrich?

After last night’s twin triumphs in the Deep South for Rick Santorum, the future of the Republican presidential race has come down to one question: is there anything the Pennsylvanian can do to entice Newt Gingrich to drop out and endorse him or to just suspend his campaign? Though the delegate math still favors Mitt Romney, next week’s Illinois primary looms as yet another do-or-die test in much the same way Michigan and Ohio did. Santorum fell short in both of those states, allowing Mr. Inevitable to survive, though just barely. With polls showing Santorum only trailing Romney in Illinois by a few percentage points, the question is what can he do to make up the gap this time?

The obvious answer for Santorum is to somehow persuade Gingrich to get out of the race. I wrote last week detailing seven reasons why I thought the former speaker wouldn’t do it. I still think I’m right about that, but after defeats in Mississippi and Alabama, there is no longer any conceivable scenario by which Gingrich could be nominated. His mere presence on the ballot helps divide the conservative vote and might, as it did in Michigan and Ohio, allow Romney to squeak out a victory. If Gingrich is at all inclined to bargain with Santorum then his bargaining power will never be greater than it is at this moment. That leaves us to ponder whether the speaker might be willing to accept a promise of a place on the ticket or a cabinet post in exchange for backing Santorum.

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After last night’s twin triumphs in the Deep South for Rick Santorum, the future of the Republican presidential race has come down to one question: is there anything the Pennsylvanian can do to entice Newt Gingrich to drop out and endorse him or to just suspend his campaign? Though the delegate math still favors Mitt Romney, next week’s Illinois primary looms as yet another do-or-die test in much the same way Michigan and Ohio did. Santorum fell short in both of those states, allowing Mr. Inevitable to survive, though just barely. With polls showing Santorum only trailing Romney in Illinois by a few percentage points, the question is what can he do to make up the gap this time?

The obvious answer for Santorum is to somehow persuade Gingrich to get out of the race. I wrote last week detailing seven reasons why I thought the former speaker wouldn’t do it. I still think I’m right about that, but after defeats in Mississippi and Alabama, there is no longer any conceivable scenario by which Gingrich could be nominated. His mere presence on the ballot helps divide the conservative vote and might, as it did in Michigan and Ohio, allow Romney to squeak out a victory. If Gingrich is at all inclined to bargain with Santorum then his bargaining power will never be greater than it is at this moment. That leaves us to ponder whether the speaker might be willing to accept a promise of a place on the ticket or a cabinet post in exchange for backing Santorum.

On Santorum’s side of that equation, there are two good arguments against making such an offer.

One is that it is possible Gingrich is about to fade out of the picture anyway. Why pay a high price for his support when it might not be worth much in the coming months?

The other is a bit more principled. Having seen what Gingrich was like when he was Speaker of the House, could Santorum really bring himself to put such an inconsistent and often unfocused person only a heartbeat away from the presidency?

Gingrich may also reason that his bargaining power will increase rather than decline if neither Romney nor Santorum wins a majority of delegates by the time the primaries end. Though he may not be so foolish as to believehe could be a compromise solution in a brokered convention, it’s hard to imagine Gingrich being willing to toss in the towel at this moment when he still thinks he might be able to play the kingmaker this summer.

Yet, if Gingrich really wants to remain a factor in the presidential race, a deal that made him Santorum’s running mate might be his best bet. Indeed, one can actually imagine him getting the equally loquacious and egotistic Vice President Joe Biden to agree to Lincoln-Douglas style debates.

As for Santorum, as unpalatable as the prospect of getting into bed with a prima donna like Gingrich may be, he also needs to ask himself how much he really wants to be president and whether he is willing to pay any political price to win.

If Gingrich stays on the ballot rather than on the sidelines, the odds are Romney finds a way to win Illinois and still manages to take the nomination. For all of his bravado about the delegate math not mattering, Santorum understands at this stage, it is everything. Unless he can get his one-on-one matchup with Romney and get it soon, Santorum will probably fall short of the mark. A grand deal with Gingrich that promised him the vice presidency might actually be the only way he can achieve this scenario.

Of course, all this is pure speculation. It will probably never happen due to Santorum’s reluctance to deal with Gingrich and the former speaker’s delusions about his own non-existent chances. But if Santorum and Gingrich really believe Romney must be stopped, then sooner or later they are bound to think about the possibility of a deal.

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Newt’s New Campaign Goal Makes No Sense

The Gingrich campaign finally seems to be acknowledging that it’s mathematically impossible for them to win the nomination in the traditional way at this point. So Newt has now settled on a new goal: stay in the race in order to prevent Mitt Romney from collecting the 1,144 delegates needed to wrap up the nomination. Byron York reports:

Gingrich no longer says he can capture the 1,144 delegates required to wrap up the Republican nomination. Instead, he now speaks frankly about a new plan: Keep Romney from getting to 1,144 by the end of the GOP primary season in June, and then start what Gingrich calls a “conversation” about who should be the Republican nominee. That conversation, the plan goes, would lead to a brokered GOP convention at which Gingrich would emerge as the eventual nominee.

“Our goal first is to keep Romney well below 1,000,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said an hour before Gingrich addressed a small crowd of disappointed supporters gathered at the Wynfrey Hotel. “It doesn’t have to be 1,000, or 1,050 — it has to be below 1,100.” If Gingrich succeeds, Hammond continued, “This will be the first time in our party in modern politics that we’re going to go to the convention floor.”

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The Gingrich campaign finally seems to be acknowledging that it’s mathematically impossible for them to win the nomination in the traditional way at this point. So Newt has now settled on a new goal: stay in the race in order to prevent Mitt Romney from collecting the 1,144 delegates needed to wrap up the nomination. Byron York reports:

Gingrich no longer says he can capture the 1,144 delegates required to wrap up the Republican nomination. Instead, he now speaks frankly about a new plan: Keep Romney from getting to 1,144 by the end of the GOP primary season in June, and then start what Gingrich calls a “conversation” about who should be the Republican nominee. That conversation, the plan goes, would lead to a brokered GOP convention at which Gingrich would emerge as the eventual nominee.

“Our goal first is to keep Romney well below 1,000,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said an hour before Gingrich addressed a small crowd of disappointed supporters gathered at the Wynfrey Hotel. “It doesn’t have to be 1,000, or 1,050 — it has to be below 1,100.” If Gingrich succeeds, Hammond continued, “This will be the first time in our party in modern politics that we’re going to go to the convention floor.”

Of course, if the goal is to undermine Romney’s chance at the nomination, the last thing Gingrich should be doing is staying in the race. The longer he stays in, the more he helps Romney by siphoning support away from Rick Santorum and splitting the conservative vote.

And if there were ever a time when Santorum needed Gingrich out of the race, it’s now, with the crucial Illinois primary just a week away. Coming off his two victories in Alabama and Mississippi, Santorum has the momentum at this point to potentially take Illinois – and deal a devastating blow to the Romney campaign in the process.

The latest poll from the Chicago Tribune shows Romney leading Santorum by just four points, 35 percent to 31 percent, with Gingrich trailing at 12 percent. If Gingrich drops out, endorses Santorum, and urges his supporters to vote for him, it could easily push the former Pennsylvania senator over the top in the state. And if, after dropping out, Gingrich agreed to pledge the delegates he’s already won to Santorum, it could completely change the dynamic of the race and actually make it competitive again.

Gingrich has the potential to do more damage to the Romney campaign than any other candidate at this point. But that would require him to drop out of the race, something he hasn’t shown any interest in doing. Instead, he’s trying to justify his losing campaign by saying he’s staying in the race to hurt Romney. Is anyone actually buying that excuse?

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Santorum Momentum Poses a Challenge to Romney’s Math

The two primaries in Alabama and Mississippi were a trap for Rick Santorum because anything but victories for him could have been construed as devastating blows to his campaign. Wins by Mitt Romney would have demonstrated his ability to win in any part of the country including states where conservatives and evangelical voters predominate. Wins by Newt Gingrich would have given him a reason to go on other than his ego. But by sweeping both Deep South states that voted on Tuesday, Santorum added two more triumphs to the already impressive list of states that he has won. The delegate math will not be altered much today due to the proportional allocation system as well as Romney’s expected wins in Hawaii and American Samoa. But though Romney can still have a reasonable expectation of ultimately winning the nomination, Santorum’s momentum places the notion of his inevitability in doubt.

Even if, as I expect, Gingrich stays in the race after losing the last two states where he could have been said to have had a chance to win, Santorum is now in a position to do some real damage to the Romney juggernaut in the upcoming weeks. With polls already showing Romney having only a slight lead over Santorum in a large state like Illinois where he ought to win, Tuesday’s victories allow the Pennsylvanian to hope  he can add to his string of upsets. If Santorum ends March by stacking up victories in Illinois, Louisiana and Missouri, then although he will still be trailing badly in the delegate count, his path to the nomination won’t look quite so much of a fantasy as it did a few weeks ago. Though Romney will still have impressive advantages, so long as the votes are still be counted state by state, momentum has a way of overwhelming math.

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The two primaries in Alabama and Mississippi were a trap for Rick Santorum because anything but victories for him could have been construed as devastating blows to his campaign. Wins by Mitt Romney would have demonstrated his ability to win in any part of the country including states where conservatives and evangelical voters predominate. Wins by Newt Gingrich would have given him a reason to go on other than his ego. But by sweeping both Deep South states that voted on Tuesday, Santorum added two more triumphs to the already impressive list of states that he has won. The delegate math will not be altered much today due to the proportional allocation system as well as Romney’s expected wins in Hawaii and American Samoa. But though Romney can still have a reasonable expectation of ultimately winning the nomination, Santorum’s momentum places the notion of his inevitability in doubt.

Even if, as I expect, Gingrich stays in the race after losing the last two states where he could have been said to have had a chance to win, Santorum is now in a position to do some real damage to the Romney juggernaut in the upcoming weeks. With polls already showing Romney having only a slight lead over Santorum in a large state like Illinois where he ought to win, Tuesday’s victories allow the Pennsylvanian to hope  he can add to his string of upsets. If Santorum ends March by stacking up victories in Illinois, Louisiana and Missouri, then although he will still be trailing badly in the delegate count, his path to the nomination won’t look quite so much of a fantasy as it did a few weeks ago. Though Romney will still have impressive advantages, so long as the votes are still be counted state by state, momentum has a way of overwhelming math.

At the bottom of this equation remain two hard facts that remain the key factors in the GOP race.

One is the undeniable problem that Romney has with conservative voters. Due to his flip-flops on the issues during the years, they neither trust nor particularly like him. Though he has tried hard to demonstrate that his positions are now as conservative as any of his rivals, he simply doesn’t have a way to convince evangelicals or Tea Partiers that he understands and shares their values. Should he become the Republican nominee, I believe most would ultimately back him as the only alternative to four more years of Barack Obama but until then, the majority on the right will always prefer to cast their primary and caucus ballots for someone they can more readily identify with. Though even most conservatives know that Santorum is less electable than Romney, he will be able to count on the votes of conservatives so long as there is any chance he can win the nomination.

The second fact is that Romney continues to benefit from a divided conservative field. Though Gingrich spent most of his speech Tuesday night mocking Romney rather than acknowledging his own defeat, the man he derides as a “Massachusetts moderate” is the prime beneficiary of his decision to stay in the race. Though the Gingrich factor will not be as significant in the upcoming weeks, any votes that he takes away from Santorum could be decisive in handing a crucial state like Illinois to Romney in the same way that his presence helped deliver Michigan and Ohio to the frontrunner.

While Romney must still be considered the likely Republican nominee, Santorum’s victories will make his task far more difficult and ensure that even if he emerges from the gauntlet of hard fought primaries on top, he will be significantly weakened as well as having had his resources depleted. The more primaries Santorum wins, the more time Republicans will spend beating each other up rather than focusing on Obama’s weaknesses.

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Santorum Sweep Would Make Romney’s Task Harder and Longer

A slow vote count in both Alabama and Mississippi has left the outcome of both primaries in doubt until 10pm. Both states appeared to be a three-way scrum in which Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were all within a few points of each other. Nevertheless, Santorum has been projected to win Alabama and has taken a lead in Mississippi leaving open the question of just how significant such a double victory would be if, in fact, he hangs on in both states.

It should be understood that in contrast to earlier primaries, this is one night in which all the pressure was on Santorum and Gingrich with very little on Romney. Few expected Romney to do well in the Deep South where evangelical voters predominate. A win in either Alabama or Mississippi would be a coup for the frontrunner and prove that his was truly a national candidacy. But even if he fails to win, he doesn’t lose much ground in the all-important delegate count since the proportional allocation of delegates won’t give any of the three contenders much of an advantage after such a close race. And with Hawaii, whose caucus results may well be known before Alabama finishes its ultra-slow vote count, will likely give Romney a win offsetting any damage done in the South by Santorum. Nevertheless, a double victory for Santorum would enable the Pennsylvanian to once again claim that he is the true standard-bearer for conservatives. It would also place more pressure on Newt Gingrich to withdraw though I doubt there is anything that could compel the former speaker to abandon his candidacy.

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A slow vote count in both Alabama and Mississippi has left the outcome of both primaries in doubt until 10pm. Both states appeared to be a three-way scrum in which Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were all within a few points of each other. Nevertheless, Santorum has been projected to win Alabama and has taken a lead in Mississippi leaving open the question of just how significant such a double victory would be if, in fact, he hangs on in both states.

It should be understood that in contrast to earlier primaries, this is one night in which all the pressure was on Santorum and Gingrich with very little on Romney. Few expected Romney to do well in the Deep South where evangelical voters predominate. A win in either Alabama or Mississippi would be a coup for the frontrunner and prove that his was truly a national candidacy. But even if he fails to win, he doesn’t lose much ground in the all-important delegate count since the proportional allocation of delegates won’t give any of the three contenders much of an advantage after such a close race. And with Hawaii, whose caucus results may well be known before Alabama finishes its ultra-slow vote count, will likely give Romney a win offsetting any damage done in the South by Santorum. Nevertheless, a double victory for Santorum would enable the Pennsylvanian to once again claim that he is the true standard-bearer for conservatives. It would also place more pressure on Newt Gingrich to withdraw though I doubt there is anything that could compel the former speaker to abandon his candidacy.

The danger for Romney, however, is not so much in the effect of tonight’s voting on the delegate count but on the momentum that it might give Santorum heading into Missouri, Louisiana and Illinois later this month. Santorum will be favored in Louisiana and Missouri but Illinois is the sort of state that Romney is expected to win. Romney managed to squeak out close wins in Michigan and Ohio over Santorum. But the more credibility that Santorum gets by piling up primary victories the harder it will be for Romney to pull out Illinois.

Romney already knows he’s locked in a long, hard slog to get to the nomination even if the delegate math indicates that he will prevail in the end. But the longer he must keep fighting and fending off bitter attacks on his credibility, the harder it will be for him to unite his party behind his candidacy once the dust settles.

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A Lot on the Line in Southern Primary Tossups for Santorum

After consecutive weeks of coping with do-or-die primaries in Michigan and Ohio, it is fair to say the pressure’s off Mitt Romney this week. While his candidacy would receive a major boost from victories in either Mississippi or Alabama, he’s not under the same pressure to win there. With evangelicals predominating in both of these southern states, the assumption is either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum ought to be the favorite. Yet with both challengers competing hard to win there, the frontrunner may have as good a chance as any of them.

But the outcome in Mississippi and Alabama will have major implications for both Santorum and Gingrich. Santorum has spent the last month playing the role of the principal “not Romney” in the GOP race. But wins in these states by anybody but him will undermine that claim, perhaps fatally. Anything that burnishes Gingrich’s assertion that he is the true conservative hope will play into Romney’s hands, because it will mean that a divided field won’t be winnowed down to Santorum’s desired one-on-one matchup with the former Massachusetts governor. If Santorum is to be the conservative standard bearer in the fight for the Republican nomination, he’s got to beat both Gingrich and Romney in the South.

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After consecutive weeks of coping with do-or-die primaries in Michigan and Ohio, it is fair to say the pressure’s off Mitt Romney this week. While his candidacy would receive a major boost from victories in either Mississippi or Alabama, he’s not under the same pressure to win there. With evangelicals predominating in both of these southern states, the assumption is either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum ought to be the favorite. Yet with both challengers competing hard to win there, the frontrunner may have as good a chance as any of them.

But the outcome in Mississippi and Alabama will have major implications for both Santorum and Gingrich. Santorum has spent the last month playing the role of the principal “not Romney” in the GOP race. But wins in these states by anybody but him will undermine that claim, perhaps fatally. Anything that burnishes Gingrich’s assertion that he is the true conservative hope will play into Romney’s hands, because it will mean that a divided field won’t be winnowed down to Santorum’s desired one-on-one matchup with the former Massachusetts governor. If Santorum is to be the conservative standard bearer in the fight for the Republican nomination, he’s got to beat both Gingrich and Romney in the South.

The latest polls from the two states from Public Policy Polling show both states to be a virtual three-way tossup. But the bad news for Santorum is he seems to be in third place in both–trailing Gingrich by six percentage points in Mississippi and Romney by two points in Alabama. While he can look forward to another strong performance this weekend in Missouri, third place finishes, no matter what the margin might be, will be a blow to a campaign that has little margin for error.

Romney has much to gain and little to lose in the Deep South. Gingrich, a candidate with little real hope for the nomination, just seems to want a victory or two in order to justify continuing his ego-driven campaign. But Santorum, whose victories and close losses in major states has persuaded his backers he has a real chance, needs wins badly. If somehow he can prevail in both on the strength of his powerful appeal to evangelicals and other social conservatives, the pressure will grow on Gingrich to withdraw. Failing that, the argument that he presents a credible rather than a symbolic challenge to Romney will lose strength.

All of this means that for the first time in this race, Santorum is the one with the pressure on him. By Wednesday, Santorum’s pretensions to genuine contention will be either exposed or bolstered.

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