So, Mitt Romney dodged a bullet this Tuesday, and Rick Santorum seemingly blew an enormous opportunity to change the narrative of the 2012 election. However, Mitt Romney hasn’t won anything substantive yet, neither has Rick Santorum lost. In fact it was a 15-15 delegate split in Michigan, which awards its delegates based on congressional district wins. Romney and Santorum each won seven districts, worth two delegates a piece. The remaining two delegates are awarded proportionally to the popular vote. They each received one delegate there.
In Tennessee on Wednesday, Santorum said, “Don’t give Romney all the spin. We went into his backyard, he spent a fortune — money he had no intention of spending — and we came out of there with the same number of delegates he does,” Santorum is somewhat accurately translating Michigan as a loss for Romney. Though had he won Michigan outright, Santorum would actually have had unprecedented momentum in the context of the 2012 Republican primary. He will undoubtedly look back and note that it makes no electoral sense to criticize college, or claim to “vomit” over a speech given by John Kennedy. That combination, even while running against the mistake-laden Romney, is apparently unforgivable.
The good and bad news for Romney is that Michigan is over. The pressure of needing to win his home state is gone; however, he finds himself without his own momentum, having only survived in Michigan rather than having won decisively. Where does he turn next Tuesday? Massachusetts and Vermont are in the bag for him, and neither is newsworthy, as one is small and he was governor of the other. Newt Gingrich, whose latest comeback has begun, will most probably win his home state of Georgia, and it doesn’t even behoove Romney to run there this week. Tennessee and Oklahoma, at least one of which is essential for Gingrich to remain viable, are both looking strong for Santorum.
The big prize, both in a delegate way, but more in an intangible way, as it is truly a “swing” state in November, is Ohio. Currently, Santorum is running around nine points ahead of Romney, the last polls having been taken before the Romney wins on Tuesday. But this is precisely where we will know how Romney is perceived. Should he lose Ohio — meaning he generated no real energy out of Michigan — we could find ourselves exactly where we have remained all winter.
So from where I sit, Gingrich can be a major factor again, with wins that marginalize Santorum, and get him delegates outside of Georgia, potentially in Oklahoma or Tennessee. Santorum could be an actual electoral front-runner, if not a perceived one, by winning states that a front-runner should win, such as Ohio and Tennessee. Romney has to avoid mistakes, no easy task, and he would benefit hugely from pulling what would now be an upset in Ohio, or even Tennessee. Ron Paul may finally win in Idaho, and that would be fine for Romney. What wouldn’t be fine is if he beats Romney head-to-head in Virginia; possible but unlikely. For now, though, we aren’t much further along than we were before Arizona and Michigan. Mitt Romney just happened to have snuck out of Dodge.
So much can happen over the next five days, as it has over every five days of this campaign. I am reminded of Steve Martin in “The Jerk,” describing his time without Bernadette Peters, “I know we’ve only known each other four weeks and three days, but to me it seems like nine weeks and five days.”
This next week may seem that long for these candidates. Should Romney win Ohio, then the race could finally have its leader, Santorum would have nowhere to go and Sheldon Adelson would have some expensive decisions to make.
But I wouldn’t count on it. I would prepare for another nine weeks and five days.