In the aftermath of Super Tuesday there are a number of theories floating around. To the writer (me) there seem to really be only three plausible ones. First, despite Romney’s wins in 6 of the 10 states on Super Tuesday the race will drag on until April or May. Romney failed to win any Southern state and did not win Ohio like he did Michigan. Second, Santorum and Gingrich both have reasons to stay in the race. Far-fetched as it may seem Gingrich could play better in the Deep South. Santorum has shown strength in the South as well as in the Midwest. Third, for the first time Romney finally has a path to the nomination.
There are certainly other theories floating out there. Ruy Texiera thinks the winner of Super Tuesday was Obama and recited the usual talking points of how the GOP’s right-wing extremism will hurt them among moderates and Hispanics. John Avlon in the Daily Beast had some good points about how Romney will continue to have to slog along to the nomination, no matter how many states he wins. John Fund writing for NR Online finds danger signs for Romney going forward. But all these theories fail to take into account three key things.
First, Romney is now unbeatable. I don’t say this lightly considering the topsy-turvy nature of the GOP race thus far. But Romney now has a commanding 1,232,933 popular vote lead according to RCP. Also according to RCP Romney leads the delegate race 404 to Santorum’s 161 and Gingrich’s 105. Paul has a mere 61. As tough a slog as it may be for Romney to wrap up the race, the next week will not be friendly to him with a caucus in Kansas on Saturday and primaries in AL and MI on Tuesday, he has a huge lead to work with and money and organization that is now being deployed nationwide to start planning for the general.
Second, Romney has steadily gained ground among the voting blocs most resistant to his campaign. In both Iowa and SC, the two most conservative early states, Romney struggled among evangelicals, very conservative voters, Tea Partiers and low-income and education votes. Since then however the underlying trend of the Romney campaign has been to gain ground with these voters. In Florida Romney ran dead even with voters earning $30,000 or less. More importantly in MI (where there are more of these voters) Romney lost them by a mere few points. In Ohio he repeated this feat. Romney still struggles with very conservative voters and evangelicals (there is a lot of cross-over between these two groups), this was evident in TN and GA, but nationwide Romney is making inroads with these voters. Despite this the national narrative that Romney seems to be he is struggling among these voters. In truth, he is almost as strong among blue-collar voters as Santorum.
Third, Romney’s permanent constituencies and support has now been established. This means that if Gingrich or Santorum dropped out it is unlikely that the candidate’s support will all go to anybody but Romney. More likely it will depend by ideology and region. Keep in mind that this campaign has been as much a regional affair as an ideological one. Romney has dominated the Northeast and urban/suburban Southern states (FL, VA). Santorum the Midwest (IA, MN, MO) and Gingrich the Deep South (SC, GA). In each region the winning candidate has run exceptionally stronger among their core supporters and better among groups they are weak in. For example Romney almost won very conservative voters in NH, Santorum moderates in MI and Gingrich won virtually every group in GA and SC. So if Gingrich dropped out it is likely the support he has among very conservative voters and evangelicals would switch to Santorm. But the support Gingrich has among Tea Partiers and somewhat conservative voters in the Midwest or North could easily switch to Romney. Where an individual candidate’s support would go if they dropped out is not monolithically against Romney anymore (as we saw with Perry and Bachmann’s supporters going to Gingrich). Instead it would likely be more regionally divided and that works fine for Romney. If Romney captures the West and Midwest but does not win the South (minus TX) then he easily captures the nomination.
All these factors add up to Romney finally having a path to the nomination. It will not be easy and it likely will not be locked up until May but Romney now can start to feel relatively secure where he is. The National Gallup Tracking poll has him holding a substantial national lead, he leads in the winner-take-all mega states of NY and CA, and regionally his pockets of support are secure. Furthemore the Romney camp can now feel like they do not need Gingrich and Santorum splitting up the anti-Romney vote. Th anti-Romney vote has been starting to dissipate ever since Florida and that bodes well for Romney. Still, Gingrich or Santorum have to drop out for their support to shift and until May or late April that looks unlikely.