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Super Tuesday turns into Stupor Tuesday

It certainly seems more likely than ever that Romney will end up as the nominee, but the TV pundits can’t stop calling him a “weak front runner.”

Mitt Romney waving with his wife Ann at his "Super Tuesday" primary election night rally in Boston.

Joe Scarborough, the former Repub congressman turned MSNBC morning host, offered this headline for the Super (or dare I say “stupor”) Tuesday results: “The Cyborg marches on.”

The “cyborg” would be the Mitt Romney campaign for president. Romney won more states, more votes, more delegates, gave the least weird prime-time victory (sort of) speech but nonetheless fell short of those danged “expectations” in the long night of Super Tuesday vote counting because he beat Rick Santorum by just one percentage point, and, apparently, the Great Expecters expected more.

It should be noted that when the delegates are awarded, Romney will do much better than a one-percentage-point win might suggest, in part because Santorum failed get delegates slated in several congressional districts that he carried. Team Cyborg does not make mistakes like that.

It certainly seems more likely than ever that Romney will end up as the nominee, but the TV pundits — and we’re not just talking about on the liberals on MSNBC, they were saying similar things on Fox News — can’t stop calling him a “weak front runner.”

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Charles Krauthammer (on Fox): “Every time he’s got a chance to close the deal, he doesn’t quite get it done.”

Echoed Scarborough on NBC: “He’s outspending [Santorum] six to one, and he still can’t put him away.”

The Romney story is either evidence that money is everything (because he keeps winning despite generating little enthusiasm) or that money is overrated (because he can’t quite put Santorum away).

Santorum watch

Rick Santorum actually exceeded expectations, with an easier-than-“expected” win in Tennessee and especially by giving Romney a tougher than “expected” battle in Ohio. He led in the Ohio count far into the night. (Props to that devilish Turd Blossom/Boy Genius Karl Rove, commentating on Fox, who may have been the first to publicly announce that — based on which counties were yet to be counted –Santorum’s lead could not hold up.)

Based on his victories in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota and reasonably strong second-place finishes almost everywhere else, the pundits universally declared that Santorum does not have to drop out. (They’ll let him know when it’s time.)

Santorum gave a rambling, ungracious Obamneycare-obsessed victory (sort of) speech; failed to congratulate Romney on any of his wins; added that Obama and his ilk believe that government is “allocator and creator” of freedom; warned that the (to call it by its official name for once) Affordable Care Act represents “the beginning of the end of freedom in America,” and announced that “I’ve never been for an individual mandate at the state or federal level” (that’s a dig at Romney).

Gingrich watch

Two minutes after the polls closed, the Great Declarers declared that Newt Gingrich would easily win in his home state of Georgia, which did occur. Based on the vagaries of Republican delegate allocation, Georgia has more delegates than the more populous Ohio, so Gingrich had a decent night in the race for delegates. But in his long, bizarre and by turns snide, weary, feisty and generally embarrassing victory speech, he seemed unaware that he had lost very badly in the other nine Super Tuesday states, generally finishing in third or even fourth place.

“Don’t let the elites tell you I’m done,” he told the adoring throng, which was the first of seven references to the “elite” that are out to get him. (He also believes that “Wall Street” is out to “eviscerate” him, by which he must mean Romney supporters. “You are the reason I’ve survived every effort of the establishment to stop us,” he told his admirers.)

Fox’s Britt Hume said Gingrich “just set a record for giving the longest victory speech by a guy who has gone two for 18 and has just carried his home state.”

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Sarah Palin, a paid Fox contributor, appeared intermittently through the night from Alaska, hasn’t made anything she calls an endorsement but did announce that she had just voted for Gingrich in the Alaska primary (he finished fourth there). I caught her Fox act twice (she seems to be doing an impression of Tina Fey doing an impression of her) and on both occasions she worked in a reference to “Obama’s failed socialist policies,” but only one reference to “Orwellian Obama-speak.”

Romney’s speech

Romney spoke third and was easily the most gracious of the three, congratulating Gingrich and Santorum on their wins, making no premature claims about how Ohio would turn out and congratulating Ron Paul for something or other.

The speech seemed to be a series of not-very-connected slogans and applause lines, but he looked good, sounded good, kept it relatively short and saved all of his barbs for Obama (obvious pundit point: trying to pivot to the general election campaign).

For example: “Eight percent unemployment is not the best America can do. It’s just the best that this administration can do.”

And: “To the millions of Americans who look around and can only see jobs they can’t get and bills they can’t pay, I have a message: You have not failed. This president has failed you.” (Actually, a slightly odd note for the likely nominee of a party that likes to say that government doesn’t create jobs or generate wealth.)

And then this grandiose claim: “This campaign is not about a name on a ballot. It’s about saving the soul of America.”

Where are we?

Kansas has caucuses on Saturday, followed by primaries Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi. None of these are particularly juicy targets for Romney. The Repub rules this year forbid states from running winner-take-all primaries until the second half of the primary season, but those winner-take-all states loom ahead down the road, which could give Romney a chance to rack up some big delegates number (but, not to be too annoying, they also give whoever is left in the not-Romney category a chance to gain ground quickly).

This theme has been around for a while, but the pundits last night were hammering on the idea that Gingrich has — presumably unintentionally —  become Romney’s biggest ally. They presume (and so do I) that if Gingrich drops out, Santorum will inherit the lion’s share of his supporters. If Gingrich had dropped out before last night, Santorum would likely have won Georgia (as I mentioned before, the biggest delegate prize of the night) and the narrative would have shifted. Presumably, Santorum might have won Ohio too.

Steve Schmitt, who was John McCain’s 2008 campaign manager and served as an MSNBC analyst last night, said: “From this point forward, a vote for Newt Gingrich is a vote for Mitt Romney.”

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Howard Fineman, fresh from a session with Romney’s campaign operatives, said on MSNBC that the Romneyites were now openly acknowledging that they might not be able to lock up the number of delegates needed for a first-ballot nomination.

Schmitt (whose commentary was admirably blunt) said that if Romney comes into the convention with the most delegates, but not the magic number, there is no possibility that the convention would turn to Santorum or Gingrich or anyone else who had run in the primaries and secured fewer delegates than Romney. But there is the alternative scenario where the party turns to someone who hasn’t been running in the primaries at all.

Here are two attempts to sum up the night, both from MSNBC liberals:

Rachel Maddow:  “Obviously, what we’ve learned tonight is that Mitt Romney is the same guy we thought he was before tonight, which is that Mitt Romney still sort of looks like the nominee, is still sort of winning more delegates than everyone else, but has some very serious problems with some very, very core parts of the Republican constituency and neither Rick Santorum nor Newt Gingrich can be viable as long as they are both in the race. So the main dynamic is whether Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich can figure out a way to whittle themselves down to one.”

Chris Matthews: “You’re focusing on a competence issue. You’re focusing on Newt’s inability to get on the ballot in his own state – Virginia. We talked about Rick Santorum’s failure to get delegates slated where he will win well. This competence thing is working. As boring as he is, as non-philosophical as he is, and I would say as pathetic as he is when he genuflects before people like [Donald] Trump and [Rush] Limbaugh, Romney does have that basic strength. Call it LDS/Mormon competence, the Bain Capital connection; he doesn’t screw up on that stuff. I think he’s going to be the nominee.”

A fact that Romney may not emphasize:

(From Minnesota boy Aaron Blake at The Fix): Exit polls in both Michigan and Ohio show voters making more than $100,000 per year turning out in much higher numbers this year than they did in 2008. And in both cases, they might well have provided the difference for Romney. In 2008, 22 percent of GOP primary voters in Michigan made at least $100,000, and that group made up 21 percent of the electorate in Ohio, according to exit polls.

This year, 33 percent of voters in Michigan made that much money, while 30 percent of Ohio voters did. In both cases, the number of wealthy voters grew by about 50 percent — a pretty stunning increase in that demographic over just a four-year span. And an argument could be made that the increase put Romney over the top.

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In both states, Romney won this demographic by 14 points but didn’t win among any other income demographic. And given he won by such small margins overall — 1 point in Ohio and 3 points in Michigan — it’s not unreasonable to think he would have lost those states without the uptick in wealthy voters.

Last stupid fun fact: Romney ended up beating Santorum in Ohio by 12,360 votes, almost precisely one percent.

Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman, both of whom dropped out of the race in January but whose names nonetheless were on the Ohio ballot, received a combined 13,848 votes, or 1.1 percent.

Satire alert: Snotty but hilarious humorist Andy Borowitz published a mock news version of the nights results with the headline: “Overjoyed Romney Celebrates Voters Hating Him Marginally Less Than Santorum”

And the subhead: “Mitt: ‘Voters Want the Lesser of Two Evils, and I am Lesser’”

And the made-up money quote from Newt Gingrich: This race isn’t about winning or losing. This is about me standing in front of a microphone and listening to the sound of my own voice for as long as possible.”