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Santorum Sweeps the South     Permalink

While Rick Santorum got more votes than anyone else in Alabama and Mississippi's primaries yesterday, the real winner was President Barack Obama. Santorum's wins guarantee that Santorum (and possibly Newt Gingrich) will continue their campaigns for weeks to come, making it impossible for Mitt Romney to start his general election campaign until April or maybe later. Every month that Romney has to focus his attention on his pesky Republican challengers means another month of dealing with attacks from Republicans and spending money attacking them right back, while Obama just sits on the sidelines watching the mayhem. Romney is still the strong favorite, but he just can't seal the deal. Here are yesterday's results.

State Santorum Gingrich Romney Paul
Alabama 35% 29% 29% 5%
Mississippi 33% 31% 30% 4%
Hawaii 25% 11% 45% 19%

With victories in Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi, Santorum is beginning to solidify his position as the not-Romney candidate. Now that Gingrich has shown that he is weak in the South--along with being weak everywhere else in the country--fewer and fewer conservatives are going to see him as a viable alternative to Santorum, no matter how much money Sheldon Adelson puts in Gingrich's superPAC. And it may soon dawn on Adelson that continuing to pour millions of dollars into a pointless campaign is a bad bet. If there is one thing casino owner Adelson understands well, it is betting.

Despite losses in the two deep South states, Romney also had some successes yesterday. He won Hawaii easily and also scored a big win in American Samoa, which gets to send nine delegates to the convention, most likely all Romney supporters. According to the AP, in the all-important delegate count, Romney is now leading with 453 (excluding about 20 from Hawaii and American Samoa), with Santorum second at 241. Gingrich is third with 127 delegates and Ron Paul is fourth with 46 delegates. It takes 1144 delegates to get the nomination, so Romney is not even half way.

It is almost as if there are two parallel races going on. There is the delegate race, which Romney is clearly winning, but there is also the public relations race, which he is not. After all, coming in third in two deep South, heavily Republican, states, does not project an aura of inevitability. To make a boxing analogy, last Fall, Romney was expecting to win on a knockout in the first round and he may end up winning a split decision after 15 rounds. Ultimately, a win is a win, but coming out of the primaries barely victorious is hardly the best start for the general election.

As the Long March continues, the possibility of a deadlocked convention, once assumed to be close to zero, has to be taken seriously. Most of the remaining states use some kind of proportional allocation. If we assume for the moment that Romney has about 473 delegates now, he needs another 671 from the pool of 1301 delegates not yet chosen plus the 117 unpledged delegates already chosen. or 43%. Of the delegates already chosen, he has received 46%, so picking up 43% of the future plus unpledged ones could be doable, but it may not be so easy and may not be completed until June. As a consequence, we may be moving into a situation in which every delegate counts, and both Romney and Santorum may have to start focusing more on how to win specific congressional districts to pick up an extra delegate here and there. That does not lead to the kind of race with broad themes that can attract the attention of the independents who will be needed in the general election.

The next contests are Missouri (52 delegates) on Saturday, Puerto Rico (23 delegates) on Sunday, and then the second biggest prize in all of March, Illinois (69 delegates) on March 20. Once again, pundits are saying Illinois is a make-or-break race for Romney. But the pundits previously said Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Michigan, and Ohio were make-or-break races, too, and none of them were. Unless someone wins Illinois by a huge margin, no doubt the campaigns will just slide effortlessly into April.

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-- The Votemaster

Previous headlines

Mar11 Santorum Wins Kansas Caucus
Mar10 Santorum Favorite to Win Kansas Caucus Today
Mar10 Angus King Endorses Obama
Mar07 Romney wins Ohio and five other states, Santorum wins three states
Mar06 Today is Super Tuesday
Mar06 Independent Throws Maine Senate Race into Turmoil
Mar04 Romney Wins Washington, Paul Second (Maybe)
Mar03 Washington State Holds Caucuses Today
Mar03 Maine Senate Field Taking Shape
Feb29 Romney Barely Wins Michigan
Feb29 Olympia Snow Announces Her Retirement
Feb28 Michigan Too Close to Call
Feb28 Kerrey May Run for the Senate in Nebraska
Feb23 Romney Attacks, Santorum Defends, Nothing Much Changes
Feb23 Of Vaginas and Veeps
Feb21 Too Late for a White Knight
Feb21 Another Republican Debate Tomorrow
Feb17 Santorum Leading Romney in Michigan
Feb12 Romney Wins the CPAC Straw Poll
Feb12 Romney Edges Out Paul by 194 Votes in Maine
Feb12 Santorum Leading in Michigan and Nationwide
Feb08 Santorum Wins Big in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado
Feb05 Romney Wins Nevada Caucuses
Feb05 Republican Primary and Caucus Schedule
Feb04 Romney Expected to Win Big at Nevada Caucuses Today
Feb04 Economy is Improving
Feb01 Romney Wins Decisively in Florida
Jan31 Romney Set to Win Big in Florida
Jan31 Santorum Faces Easy Choice Tomorrow
Jan31 Prediction: Florida Will Win Today
Jan27 Romney Takes Off the Gloves in Final Florida Debate
Jan27 Romney Failed to List Foreign Investments on Legal Form
Jan25 Obama Lays Groundwork for a Populist Campaign in State-of-the-Union Speech
Jan24 Romney Releases 2010 Tax Return
Jan24 Role Reversal in the Debate: Romney Attacks, Gingrich Plays Defense
Jan24 Fred Thompson Endorses Newt Gingrich
Jan22 Gingrich Crushes Romney in South Carolina
Jan20 Perry Drops Out and Endorses Gingrich
Jan20 Gingrich Surging in South Carolina
Jan20 Gingrich's Second Wife Attacks Him