Romney wins 6 states, fails to blunt Santorum’s conservative support
Mitt Romney’s showing in six states was not a super one for the Republican presidential hopeful, who failed to produce the convincing wins needed to demonstrate his ability to generate support among diehard conservatives.
It was best illustrated by Romney’s big Super Tuesday win in the bellwether state of Ohio, where he eked out a win over Rick Santorum, after failing to attract strong support from tea party conservatives and evangelical conservatives.
The issue dogs Romney as he heads into the Kansas caucuses on Saturday, and primaries in Mississippi and Alabama on March 13. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Santorum are focusing on races in those conservative states in their battle to become the lone right-wing challenger to the more moderate Romney.
“He still has a problem with the base,” said Ari Fleischer, a CNN contributor who was press secretary for President George W. Bush. “That base problem may make him attractive to independents if he gets to a general” election, but can work against Romney in the primary seasoon.
Romney won his home state of Massachusetts as well as Ohio, Idaho, Vermont, Virginia and Alaska, while Santorum took North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee, according to unofficial tallies.
Gingrich grabbed a vital triumph in his home state of Georgia, while Texas Rep. Ron Paul failed to win in any of the states up for grabs.
The Super Tuesday contests in 10 states put 419 delegates up for grabs.
Based on the partial results, CNN estimated that Romney had accumulated 404 delegates to 165 for Santorum, 106 for Gingrich and 66 for Paul in all Republican primaries and caucuses held to date. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the GOP nomination.
In Ohio, Romney took a late lead of about 10,000 votes over Santorum with more than 99% of precincts reporting, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s unofficial tally. It was clear Santorum would be unable to overcome the difference.
Even if Santorum managed to win the Ohio popular vote, he wouldn’t get a majority of the delegates because his campaign failed to properly register them in some districts.
Georgia had the most delegates up for grabs on Tuesday with 76, but Ohio, because of its status as a crucial battleground state in the general election, was considered the main prize.
Santorum’s victories in the Tennessee and Oklahoma primaries, and North Dakota caucuses, demonstrated his continuing strength among conservative voters, while Gingrich’s win in the state that sent him to Congress allowed him to keep his campaign going.
Santorum’s campaign is planning on buying about $1 million of ads in Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi, a Santorum campaign source said.
The Santorum victory in Tennessee hurt Gingrich’s Southern strategy after the former House speaker’s triumphs in South Carolina and now Georgia.
“It looks we’re going to get at least a couple of gold medals, and a whole passel full of silver medals,” Santorum told cheering supporters in Ohio well before the outcome in the Buckeye State was known.
In Virginia, Santorum and Gingrich failed to qualify for the ballot.
For Gingrich, who represented Georgia’s sixth congressional district for two decades, the victory there provided a new boost after a string of defeats since his only other primary triumph in South Carolina.
“Thank you Georgia! It is gratifying to win my home state so decisively to launch our March Momentum,” Gingrich said Tuesday night in a Twitter post.
“There’s lots of bunny rabbits that run through,” Gingrich later told supporters in Georgia in reference to the revolving door of frontrunners so far in the GOP nomination fight. “I’m the tortoise.”
A Gingrich campaign source also told CNN on condition of not being identified that the former House speaker will become the third GOP candidate to get Secret Service protection starting Wednesday. Romney and Santorum already have that protection.
Romney entered Super Tuesday off of three wins last week and a growing lead in the race for the nomination to face President Barack Obama in November.
In remarks to supporters in Boston, Romney focused on Obama in trying to sound like the presumptive nominee.
Citing unemployment that remains above 8%, Romney said the figure is just an “inconvenient statistic” in the eyes of the Obama administration.
“But those numbers are more than data on a spreadsheet; they are worried families and anxious faces,” said Romney, who was interrupted repeatedly by chants and cheers. “And tonight, I’d like to say to each of them: You have not been forgotten. We will not leave you behind. Our campaign is on the move, and real change is finally on the way.”
Romney also signaled a continued battle for his campaign.
“Tonight we’ve taken one more step towards restoring the promise of America,” he said. “Tomorrow we wake up and we start again. And the next day we’ll do the same. And so it will go, day by day, step by step, door by door, heart to heart.”