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.
The biggest prize in the assortment of various states and territories up for grabs in the Republican presidential contests this weekend went to Rick Santorum, who took Kansas with another smashing victory. The former senator got more than 51 percent of the vote, with Mitt Romney placing a distant second and barely eclipsing the 20 percent mark that was necessary for him to win some delegates there. But while another showing in which evangelical support led to a victory bolstered Santorum, the delegate math wasn’t altered much by the results. Santorum got 33 of Kansas’ delegates to the Republican National Convention with Romney picking up just 7. But while Santorum was winning Kansas, Romney cleaned up in Wyoming as well as in Guam, the Northern Marianas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, nearly offsetting the Pennsylvanian’s advantage. When the dust settles, Romney will still have more delegates than all of his GOP rivals combined.
Romney is clearly on track to win enough delegates to clinch the nomination at the Tampa convention, but he will do so without sweeping the GOP board as conservatives continue to rally around Santorum as not only the leading “not Romney” but also as their standard-bearer on social issues. Far from being discouraged, the Pennsylvanian’s backers are doubling down on their determination to fight Romney all the way to the convention while also seeking to find some way to persuade Newt Gingrich to leave the race and thus allow Santorum the opportunity for a one-on-one battle with the frontrunner. Though the ultimate outcome is not much in doubt, Republicans appear set to spend the next few months in engaging in a long drown-out struggle that will leave the victor in a weakened state to face off against President Obama in the fall.