It’s not over, but …
posted at 8:40 am on February 1, 2012 by Ed Morrissey
Did Mitt Romney resuscitate his “inevitability” argument with his win last night? The subtext of his victory speech seemed to make that claim, Reid Epstein argues at Politico:
Mitt Romney didn’t just claim victory Tuesday night — he sent a clear message to Newt Gingrich: The nomination is mine.
The former Massachusetts governor scored a decisive win in the Florida presidential primary — by a higher percentage than even in his New Hampshire stronghold. Celebrating the results, he looked past Gingrich and his other opponents but offered a clear appeal to the voters backing them in both the tone and substance of his speech.
Well, Team Romney might want to keep the fireworks boxed up a wee bit longer, as hubris is as bad a political aphrodisiac as desperation. Romney has a grand total of 84 delegates now, putting him far into the lead but 1,060 delegates shy of a majority, too. He’ll have to put more distance between himself and the rest of the pack for his opponents to concede the contest to him.
Still, the big win in Florida does put Romney in the driver’s seat, as I wrote for CNN late last night:
Is the primary over at this point? Gingrich would vociferously object to that notion, as would Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. It does begin to get more difficult from this point forward, though. Until now, the primary states have come one at a time. Starting next week, states start coming simultaneously, and organization will begin to make more of a difference than it has, even in Florida.
Romney’s campaign announced its fourth-quarter fundraising before South Carolina, and it was an eye-popping $24 million, with almost $20 million of it in the bank. Gingrich only raised $10 million, his team announced a few hours before the polls closed in Florida, with $1.2 million in debt still on the books. That kind of fiscal dominance will allow the Romney team to do a lot more in parallel primaries than Gingrich can. And that will make a big difference as seven states hold contests in the next four weeks, and then ten more hold theirs on the same day in five weeks.
In order for the other Republicans to catch up now, they will need a big stumble from Romney. Their strategy going into the caucus-heavy month of February will be to score one or two wins as a way to change the narrative, not only in relation to Romney but in relation to each other. Gingrich demanded that Santorum pull out of the race yesterday, and Santorum began running ads in Nevada and Colorado that targeted Gingrich rather than Romney. Both of them want to be the consolidation candidate, and neither can while the other won’t quit — and that helps Romney, too, who has plenty of money to fight both simultaneously when needed.
Even if one of them dropped out, though, that wouldn’t mean that the entire non-Romney vote would coalesce behind the survivor. This argument got expressed by my friend Kevin McCullough on Twitter thusly: “The REAL story in Florida: Votes 4Romney 765,834, against Romney 882,424!” That, however, assumes that everyone’s second choice wouldn’t be Romney. PPP’s final Florida poll showed that Romney came in second in the second-choice category at 18%, with Rick Santorum in first at 26% and Gingrich slightly behind Romney at 17%, and 31% saying “someone else/not sure.” It also assumes Paul’s voters would flock to either Gingrich or Santorum, which seems laughably speculative at best. If Santorum had dropped out, Gingrich wouldn’t have won Florida, and the reverse is even more true.
The fat lady ain’t singing, but she’ll be clearing her throat in four weeks if Romney doesn’t make a big mistake.