Super Tuesday by any objective standard had to go to Mitt Romney. He won MA, OH, VT, VA and ID, won a solid majority of the delegates up for grabs tonight (419) and a plurality of the popular vote. Romney currently leads in Alaska and Wyoming and could add them to his total by tomorrow morning. Newt Gingrich won his must win state of Georgia and Santorum won Tennessee, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Ron Paul is winless so far.
Exit polls were taken in every state on Super Tuesday except Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska and they paint a story of how the campaign’s move forward. In the bellweather state of Ohio, Romney ran best yet again among seniors, somewhat moderate or conservative voters, higher education and higher income voters. Santorum won among evangelicals, Tea Partiers, very conservative voters and independents. In Ohio Romney was able to continue a trend he started in OH, running better among low-income and those with only a HS diploma. As in OH, Romney’ holding his losses down among this group allowed him to win Ohio. Romney also won self-indentified Republicans and women. In MA and VT Romney won virtually every major voting group, ditto for VA.
The South was a different story. In GA Gingrich dominated among almost every group. The one exception would be high income earners who split their vote between Romney and Gingrich. In Tennessee and Oklahoma Santorum won among evangelicals and Tea Partiers. But Santorum also benefitted from winning late deciding voters. In Ohio, this voting bloc split between Romney and Santorum. For the night Ron Paul’s best showing was among younger voters.
The results of tonight show without a shadow of a doubt that Romney had the best night. As mentioned above, he won 5 out of 9 called contests, received a solid majority of the delegates at stake and won the popular vote soundly tonight. Romney now has the momentum moving forward into a stretch of contests that are not very favorable to his campaign. This does not mean he can win Kansas this Saturday or MS and AL on Tuesday but it will allow him a comfort margin. This is especially true if Santorum and Gingrich bash each other into the ground to fight for these states.
The exit polls also indicate that finally, outside of the South, Romney is making inroads with voters he has traditionally struggled with. Even in Southern states, TN and OK in particular, Romney ran well among low-income and those with only a HS education. In IA and SC he struggled mightily with these voters. But as the primary has dragged on Romney has gained ground among this group steadily.
Santorum since he has burst on the scene as a viable candidate has lauded his background and social beliefs to woo blue-collar voters. But in MI and now in OH Santorum has failed to show significant strength among this group. Instead, Romney has shown an ability to court these voters despite his background.
For Gingrich the night’s results effectively ended any hope he had of winning the presidency. He is likely to finish 2nd or third in the delegate count, far behind Romney. And Gingrich’s Southern Strategy on Super Tuesday effectively collapsed as Santorum took TN and OK. For Gingrich the race will continue but ultimately without much hope of winning the contest.
Add all this together and it paints a picture of Romney in the driver’s seat, Santorum had a decent showing and Gingrich and Paul fizzled. Moving forward Romney now looks like the inevitable nominee and already he is starting to pivot to the general election. Santorum and Gingrich look likely to fight among the same set of voters in Southern states and Paul looks set to take about 15%-20% in each state. The race is not over, but it is now effectively Romney’s to lose.