By any objective measurement, Mitt Romney should be deemed the clear “winner” of Super Tuesday. He won six of the ten contests (MA, VT, VA, OH, ID and AK), with victories in the Northeast, South, Midwest and West. He won a majority of the delegates at stake, which in turn keeps him on a pace to win the nomination. One of his losses–in GA–is arguably good for him because it keeps Newt Gingrich in the race to split the non-Romney vote.
Yet here is the lede on the day’s results from Politico‘s Jonathan Martin, under the headline “Mitt Romney’s Rough Road To Tampa:”
Mitt Romney’s weaknesses show no sign of going away.
He struggles in the South and with evangelical voters. He’s not conservative enough. He loses among rural voters and with voters down the economic scale.
All of his flaws were on full display Tuesday as he failed to wrap up the GOP nomination on an evening when it was within his grasp.
It’s not completely clear to me what expectation Romney failed to meet, other than perhaps in Tennessee, where some handicappers thought he might pull off a late upset. But somehow, a combination of unusually solid wins by his opponents in GA, TN and OK, and Santorum’s early lead in OH, made the evening something else. If you didn’t know better, you’d almost think some of the stories were written before half the results were in, wouldn’t you?
I’ll have more to say about Super Tuesday later, but the bottom line is that Romney won Super Tuesday but seems to be losing the spin wars over its meaning. And for a candidate whose elite opinion-leader backing remains perhaps his most important asset other than cash, that matters.
UPDATE: Just ran across this quote from Mike Murphy, one of those “genius” political consultants that so often dominate election night coverage, that sums up the disconnect between Romney’s performance on Super Tuesday and how it’s being perceived:
“This race operates on two levels,” said Murphy. “There’s the delegate reality, which is very, very important, and I think Romney had a strong night. He started ahead. He finished more ahead. The challenge for Mitt though, I think, is there’s also the narrative side of this, the who’s winning, who’s losing story, and there I think he had a bumpy night. Didn’t have a big loss, won a lot of states, won some a little easily, won some a little surprisingly.”
The “narrative side of this.” Very interesting, and quite telling that Murphy felt he had to make the case for the “delegate reality” being “very, very important,” since that, mechanically, is how people get nominated for president.