Now, cognizati are rolling their eyes at breathless horse-race coverage of the Republican primary contest. Ross Douthat scopes out remaining contests, ventures predictions for each, and concludes, "the consequences are eminently predictable: Either Romney will clear the 1,144 delegate threshold in May or early June, or else he’ll fall 50-100 delegates short and need to play a little inside baseball to win some of the uncommitted delegates." For details, he kicks the ball to Michael Brendan Dougherty, who does the math:
Mitt Romney has won almost 1.2 million more votes than Rick Santorum overall. How much did Rick Santorum gain on him last night?Quite so. But a few caveats.
39,119 votes. So in Rick Santorum's "big wins" he erased approximately 1.35 percent of Romney's lead in votes. That's it....Get used to it: Romney is winning.
First, Obama's presumed lock on the nomination after his string of eleven caucus and primary wins in February was based on the premise that the unelected superdelegates, a majority of whom were still pledged to Hillary at this point, would not vote against the candidate with a majority of voted-chosen delegates -- at least, not when that "winner" was black. And so it proved. But it might have proved otherwise if Obama had not effectively tamped down the Jeremiah Wright firestorm with his historic March 18 speech on race relations in America. When the delegate count is close, the unpredictable can upend it.
As for Romney's steady progres: Dougherty points out that he has 39% of votes cast so far (including caucus votes) to Santorum's 25%. But Santorum has split the conservative vote with Gingrich. If Gingrich drops out in the next week, Santorum may close that popular vote gap going forward.
The delegate math still says Romney, overwhelmingly. But that doesn't mean that the contest doesn't matter. My personal interest is to see Romney pushed to the right, bloodied by intemperate attacks, and exposed as the pseudo-conservative fraud he is for as long as possible. If Alabama and Mississippi can reasonably be taken to indicate that there will be hard-fought primaries from now through June, that's huge news.