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Analysis

Romney's Super Tuesday wins half-hearted

Real victor may have been Obama

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney racked up six wins on Super Tuesday, making his eventual nomination as the Republican candidate for president all but a certainty.

His closest rival, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, is unlikely to concede the matter, however. With three Super Tuesday wins under his belt, Santorum is intent on portraying the results as a “stunning victory,” and vows to continue his fight for the nomination.

Ohio, the golden apple of Super Tuesday, eventually went to Romney, but just barely. Santorum held the lead for most of the evening, yielding to his rival only when the last votes trickled in after midnight.

It was close: Romney had 38 percent of the vote, Santorum 37, with just 12,000 votes separating them out of more than 1.1 million cast.

But turnout was so light as to make the vote less than convincing. Ohio has more than 8.2 million registered voters; fewer than 13 percent of them were motivated to go to the polls.

In Massachusetts, where Romney scored his most impressive win, turnout was even lower. The candidate’s wife may have been unintentionally ironic when she remarked on the size of the victory “in the state that knows him best.” Romney may have received 72 percent of the vote, but fewer than 10 percent of voters actually turned up.

Those who did come out were less than committed.

In a polling station in Onset, Mass., which lies on the Cape Cod Canal, election workers said that write-ins were almost as popular as the actual candidates.

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“Mickey Mouse is doing just great here,” laughed one of them, a cheerful woman who looked to be in her 40s.

Romney won Vermont, Virginia, Alaska and Idaho, as well as Massachusetts and Ohio; Santorum took Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota. Newt Gingrich won easily in his home state of Georgia. Ron Paul, the Libertarian gadfly, is still without a win.

There could still be many twists and turns on the way to Tampa, where the Republicans will hold their national convention in August. But Romney may have finally become what many have called him from the beginning: “inevitable.”

“Romney is unstoppable now,” said Karen Beckwith, the Flora Stone Mather Professor of Political Science at Case Western reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Inevitability does not necessarily translate into popularity, however. Romney’s support remains soft, with a large majority of his fans backing him because he seems electable, rather than because they are enthusiastic about his positions.

As the long and bruising battle continues, it looks more and more as if Romney will win by default.

Perhaps Saturday Night Live put it best in a skit last week on the results in Michigan, where Romney eked out a narrow win over Santorum:

“It was a case of (voters) looking at Mitt Romney and saying ‘yeah, I guess.’ ”

But there is a campaign to run, Beckwith said, and it is high time the Republican stopped bashing each other if they are to have any chance at all in November.

Santorum, for example, should just step aside. His failure to fully register delegates in Ohio demonstrated “incompetence on a shocking level,” she said, and showed that he was not really ready for the big time.

“The best Santorum can do is cause serious damage to the Republican Party,” explained Beckwith. “That is not the way to win, or to become VP.”

Her advice to the No. 2 was “get out of the race and campaign for Romney in Pennsylvania.”

This might show that he still had some value for the party, and mitigate some of the harm he has done in his attacks on his rival, she added.

Max Grubb, a media consultant and one time political campaign manager based near Akron, Ohio, also sees a future for Santorum in the campaign.

“Primaries always cater to the extremes in both parties,” he explained. “Whoever gets the nomination will inevitably become more moderate once the general campaign begins. Romney is not the darling of the hard core right in the Republican Party; having Santorum on board might galvanize the Republicans.”

But, given the obvious antipathy between the two men, it is far from certain that they could work together.

“I am not sure it would play,” Grubb said.

But even in the unlikely event that Romney and Santorum could mend fences and team up, prospects for a Republican victory in November are fairly dim, say the experts.

Ohio, for example, is a key battleground state, and will be hotly contested in November. Romney stands little chance against President Barack Obama in a region that depends heavily on the auto industry.

“Romney cannot win Ohio in the general election,” Beckwith pointed out. “All the Democrats have to do is keep playing a loop of him saying ‘let the auto industry go bankrupt.’”

Grubb agrees.

“Ohio is all auto,” he said. “Jobs are coming back, but it is because of Obama’s bailout of GM and Chrysler.”

He cautioned against overconfidence on the Democrats’ side, however.

“Things could go either way,” he said. “I am making no predictions about the Obama campaign.”

But the longer the primary battle continues, the worse things are likely to get, he said.

“The Republicans are eating their own,” Grubb said. “It must be pretty disheartening for the Party.”

By November, says Beckwith, many might be so turned off by the fracas that they will just give up.

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“These were second-rate candidates,” she said. “Some Republicans are just walking away. They see no one they really want to support, so it will be a lot easier just to stay home.”

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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Ryan Hutton/Boston University News Service

Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney waves to supporters after his victory speech Tuesday at the Westin at Copley Plaza in Boston.