After Mitt Romney won Tuesday’s Florida primary, the former Massachusetts governor walked out for his victory speech with all the swagger of a once-great champion returning to reclaim his spot at the top. He called out, as one might expect after such a convincing win, his presumed next opponent — President Barack Obama. The line that made all the headlines, "Mr. President, you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now it’s time for you to get out of the way," drove his gathered supporters to wild cheers, as they imagined their man going toe-to-toe with the commander in chief.
However, it is far too early to call the GOP primary in favor of Romney, even if some media outlets undoubtedly will do just that. The GOP National Convention (also known as the last possible date for Republicans to name their candidate) is not until the end of August — or, in political campaign years, a lifetime away. Until then, Romney should refrain from eyeing Obama, no matter how tempting it may be. Newt Gingrich still stands in the ring, has declared that he is not going anywhere, and thus remains the biggest threat to Romney’s candidacy.
Don’t forget — Gingrich has been left for dead not once, but twice before, only to rise up with more of his signature ferocity. Taking a moment to look at the score card, Romney leads the race comfortably, with 84 delegates to Gingrich’s 27. But only 5 % of the delegates have cast their votes. In addition, a total of 1,144 votes are needed — and no candidate is anywhere near that number. Yes, Gingrich is down, for the third time, but he is far from out.
The rest of the month does seem to have a particularly rosy outlook for Romney, with contests in Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, and Michigan (Missouri also has a February primary, but it effectively is meaningless. The allocation of Missouri’s delegates will be decided at a March 17 caucus). Although most of those states favor Romney, none of them are likely to land the knockout blow that permanently ends Gingrich’s campaign. The main reason is that several of the upcoming primaries are not a winner-take all proposition. Instead, their delegates will vote in a manner proportional to the votes of the actual population, i.e. if, as was the case in Florida, 46% of the primary voters choose Romney, then only 46% of the delegates will cast their votes in the same manner.
That fact alone will allow Gingrich to tread water while his opponent soldiers on to victory after victory. Meanwhile, Gingrich will simply be waiting for February to end, because, in March, a slew of Southern and Midwestern states will take their places at the polls — and all of them have a high concentration of heavy conservatives. As Gingrich already demonstrated in South Carolina, he is the candidate of choice among that particular portion of the Republican base. Until then, Romney’s opponent will bide his time, take whatever delegates he can, and develop new attacks and strategies that, if they do not lead to a Newt-ian resurgence, are sure to damage the Romney brand.
If Gingrich can withstand Romney’s expected February flurry, look for him to rise again in March, bruised but not broken, defiant chin thrust out between his jowls, with his fists raised and at the ready. What a sight he will be. For his own sake, I hope that Romney does not overlook it.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore