It may not have amounted to Mitt Romney’s best case scenario for Super Tuesday, but winning a clear majority of delegates and a close race in the battleground state of Ohio, is near enough. Rick Santorum showed staying power with impressive victories in Tennessee and Oklahoma. Newt Gringrich tried to bask in the sunlight, but winning his home state is just a consolation prize. The race will last longer because there was no knockout blow, but at the end of the day, Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee.
So why are Santorum and Gingrich staying in the race? The primary rules this year work against declaring an early victor. There are very few “winner take all” states, with most opting for a proportional allocation of delegates. Romney will keep building his lead—but it’s going to happen more slowly than it would have in previous years. Another reason is the role of Super PACs, which allow rich benefactors to keep a doomed candidacy going. Finally, both Santorum and Gingrich see themselves as the only true conservatives; to them, Romney an impostor that needs to be checked and followed. This alone is enough to keep them in the race.
Though anti-Romney candidates will ultimately fall short of stopping him, these same hard line conservatives will nonetheless play a big role in crafting the Republican platform at this summer’s convention in Tampa. A harsher, more radical right-wing platform is all but assured as a result. Had Romney won earlier, it probably could have been a more moderate, thereby increasing Romney’s appeal to independent voters in November 2012. But Romney’s inability to close the deal has allowed rival factions to coalesce around niche issues.
A longer race certainly provides great theatre and fodder for the media. But how many truly believe this contest has strengthened the Republican cause? The economy will in all likelihood remain the determining factor in Obama’s reelection campaign. Still, a prolonged Republican race leading to a more ideological and doctrinaire platform can only help the him build his case for a second term.