As the dust settles from Super Tuesday, there was a clear delegate winner on the night. Mitt Romney took the lines share of delegates on offer with five clear victories and a single point win in Ohio. He now stands 200 delegates above his nearest rival, Rick Santorum. Though there are still delegate-rich races to come, with the proportional allocation that most states now use, Romney looks to go into the nominating conference with the biggest head of steam, though perhaps without the 1,144 target he needs to lock it up. Super delegates, as in 2008 will soon be under a spotlight and could make the difference.
If this primary was only about delegate numbers last night should have left no one in doubt that Romney is on course to be the GOP nominee. Yet with Santorum winning more conservative states and robbing Romney of a big win in Ohio, a key national bellwether state, the race looks to continue ever onwards. Romney again failed to capture the conservative or evangelist vote, did poorly with blue-collar workers, and benefited from the disorganisation of the other campaigns. The inability to work through the ballot access system in Virginia left only a Romney v Paul ticket in that state, a blessing for the Romney camp on a night that they needed to win across the map.
Ron Paul for all the hype could not muster a win anywhere, losing by over 10 points to Santorum in North Dakota, a state that his strategy was meant to work. Newt Gingrich won his home state, Georgia, and won big taking, a huge swath of delegates from the largest contest of the evening.
The Republican primary system in its current form was designed by former RNC chair Michael Steele to make sure the party activists had a voice in the nomination and to try and build up momentum to whoever was going to be the GOP standard bearer. While the primary system is testing the mettle of the various contenders it is also creating the worrisome phenomenon (if you are Republican) of winning without bouncing. Rather then propel Romney’s numbers onward nationally, each win is seen as a disappointment for what should have been, with this field, a coronation.
Over the past six months Romney’s ratings have plummeted nationally, with his unfavorables 16 points higher than his favorables among independents. In every primary one appeals to the base and the balancing act is not to alienate the centre in the process. Not only has Romney not been rewarded with his conservatism by the base, he has also taken a large hit with the national middle. His muddled silence during the current war on contraception, especially during the ongoing Rush Limbaugh scandal, is killing him with mainstream America.
Meanwhile, quietly and effectively the Obama for America team is rebuilding the national organising machine that served them so well in 2008. The National Journal this week covered the fact that while Romney was the only GOP candidate to have a field operation in Virginia (an office in Richmond), Barack Obama already has dozens of events taking place, has run spring training for activists and has groups across the states phone banking. Across the map you can find hundreds of Obama events taking place every day. The campaign is now looking for data crunchers and computer modellers to build the electoral map, state by state.
The rip-and-run nature of the GOP contest is leaving whole states without field operations of any calibre. Obama won 2008 by building a field network the likes of which had never been seen before. This started even before the first votes were cast in Iowa. The GOP’s navel-gazing has caused them to lose sight of the political reality of their opponent. For all the straw men they put up on the stump speech, the eventual GOP nominee is going to face a democratic incumbent with thousands of paid field staff and hundreds of thousands of volunteers in every state of the union.
A long, drawn-out primary may test a candidate, but if momentum is not built in victory the process merely is a drain on resources and political capital – something that the Obama campaign is banking on.