The first hint that the night might not go Mitt Romney’s way was his decision not to have a “victory” party at all, which I first heard on the Hugh Hewitt show. As I said at the time, that’s an odd decision, considering the free media coverage one gets from the inevitable candidate speech. Perhaps that should have tipped us off that the early exit polls had missed the mark, and that the Romney campaign knew full well they would come in third in both Mississippi and Alabama.
However, despite the disappointing results in the two southern states, Romney ended up winning the night anyway — at least in delegates. Aaron Blake counts up the haul, including the delegate allocations from Hawaii and American Samoa:
The most recent projections from AP show Rick Santorum took 31 delegates from Alabama and Mississippi, while Newt Gingrich took 24 delegates and Romney got 23.
But this morning, Romney was projected to win all nine delegates from American Samoa’s caucuses, and he also won the Hawaii caucuses by a large margin.
AP projections show Romney beat Santorum 18 delegates to four in those jurisdictions.
So, as of this morning, Romney has won 41 delegates from Tuesday’s contests, compared to 35 for Santorum, thereby expanding Romney’s delegate lead. (Gingrich is projected to have won 24 delegates.)
According to the WaPo count after last night’s results, Romney leads in delegates over Santorum, 494-251, with Gingrich trailing badly at 131. It doesn’t extend the delegate lead by much, but it kept either Gingrich or Santorum from catching up to Romney, too.
Rich Lowry questions the conventional wisdom from last night’s spot analysis that the night was especially bad for Romney even apart from the actual delegate haul:
There’s a lot of chatter about how the Romney campaign needs a shake up. But did anyone expect him to do any better than somewhere around 30 percent in Alabama and Mississippi? The states are chock-full of the kind of voters he just isn’t going to reach in these primaries, and the only way he was going to win was if he got lucky and the anti-Romney vote broke exactly the right way. I’ve been underwhelmed by Romney victories and in this case, I’m underwhelmed by Romney defeats.
The chatter comes from two points. First, polls had him doing better than he eventually did in both states, especially Mississippi, and that makes it look like Romney can’t close the deal with conservative-state voters. Second, the expectation was that Santorum and Gingrich would have equal strength in these two states, which could have allowed Romney to take Mississippi. That didn’t happen, which means that Santorum has eclipsed Gingrich as the conservative alternative. That’s not good news for Romney or Gingrich.
The night wasn’t all bad news for Romney, by any means, but it’s overstating the case to call last night a Romney victory.