While Super Tuesday saw Mitt Romney strengthen his delegate totals, Rick Santorum would not be dispatched so easily. For much of the night, it appeared as if Santorum might pull out an upset win in the crucial swing state of Ohio, only to be overtaken by Romney as the night wore on. The message coming from many conservatives, however, is that Romney could not prove he was the unanimous decision of the Republican Party. As the primary process slogs ahead, the only true beneficiary is the man Republicans are seeking to vanquish in November, President Barack Obama.
There is no doubt Romney is still having difficulty winning over evangelicals and Reagan Democrats. These voting blocs continue to flock to the passion of Rick Santorum’s message and are perhaps distrusting of Romney’s faith. In Tennessee, evangelicals made up three quarters of the vote, and more than half of them chose Santorum. In fact, this is not much different than prior to Super Tuesday, evidence that little has materially changed in the race. Due to a large lead in delegate totals, Mitt Romney remains the presumptive nominee and Rick Santorum the populist choice who still has a long way to go to reclaim the lead from Romney. More importantly for Santorum, he needs Newt Gingrich to exit stage right if he hopes to overtake Romney.
The next important primaries are in Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi. While this could be tough ground for Romney, Santorum faces the equally daunting task of dealing with some of his votes being siphoned to Newt Gingrich, who usually plays well in the South. The only true chance Santorum has is if by August he can prevent Romney from gaining the requisite 1144 delegates to wrap up the nomination. This would bring the process to a bloody battle for delegates on the floor of the convention in Tampa. Along the way, negative attacks are only likely to become more vicious, as the candidates continue to cannibalize each other’s campaigns.
Back at the ranch, President Obama can sit back and revel as his dirty work is done for him. In their current state, neither Santorum nor Gingrich look likely to win the nomination. Mitt Romney will not be any further strengthened by facing these fellow Republicans. He has already sufficiently honed his message, and it does him no good to waste money attacking conservatives when he should be gathering energy to face the battle of his life in Barack Obama. If voters truly wanted to oust the President in the most efficient manner, they would unite behind Romney, who showed in Ohio his ability to capture the elusive swing voter, particularly in traditionally Democratic urban areas. In the 2012 general election, suburban and rural “Tea Partiers” will naturally flock to Romney as the conservative anti-Obama vote, while Romney competes against–and perhaps defeats–Obama in areas whose support the President might rather take for granted.