Republicans in 10 states weighed in on the GOP presidential nomination race in its busiest day yet. Mitt Romney won six states, Rick Santorum clinched three and Newt Gingrich prevailed in one. And along the way, clues were gleaned from the results about the path ahead. A look at what we learned:
REPUBLICANS AREN’T HOT ON ANYONE
It’s almost like a bad version of Goldilocks. Nobody is just right.
Listen to voters — in person and in exit polls — and it’s pretty clear Republicans aren’t all that hot on any of the candidates.
Only in three states did most people say they strongly supported the contender they backed, nowhere reaching 6 in 10. In the four other states where polling was conducted Tuesday, less than half expressed that degree of support for their candidate.
Even so, Republicans will eventually support the nominee. They always do. Just look at how the grumbling over John McCain faded four years ago when voters were given the choice of begrudgingly supporting the Arizona senator — seen as a moderate — or backing Barack Obama.
GINGRICH ISN’T DEAD
But that doesn’t mean he can fully come back a third time.
Until Tuesday, the former House speaker hadn’t won since South Carolina on Jan. 21. He had declared Georgia a must-win state and essentially camped out there for the past week. Gingrich, who represented Georgia for years in the U.S. House, made the state his firewall in hopes of winning a rationale to continue his bid.
It worked. At least for the moment.
“The media said, ‘Oh, I guess this is over, finally,'” Gingrich told supporters. “But you all said no.”
Now the question is whether his backers open their wallets to prove he can compete.
Underscoring the urgency, ally Herman Cain was soliciting donations even before Gingrich had gone to bed.
Unless it doesn’t.
On one hand, Santorum should have been embarrassed in Ohio. His shoestring, scattershot campaign didn’t collect enough signatures to appear on the ballot in the Steubenville area, a rural, conservative part of the state where his message on social issues — and his kinship with a region that neighbors his home state of Pennsylvania — should have given him an advantage. And that meant he ceded delegates from that region.
Yet, Santorum still managed to make it a close race with Romney, and he won at least some delegates. And Romney just eked out a win, not the decisive victory he had sought. The results wouldn’t force Santorum from the campaign.
If anything, Santorum’s almost-win — with scant organization — foreshadows problems for Romney in contests ahead.
RICH PEOPLE LIKE ROMNEY
Got money? Chances are, you voted for Romney.
In the seven states that had exit polls, Romney — a millionaire many times over who has struggled to connect with working-class voters — was the preferred candidate of the wealthiest voters. In Ohio and Tennessee, Romney won about 4 in 10 voters who reported a household income of more than $200,000. In Georgia, about a third of voters with a family income greater than $100,000 backed Romney. In his home state of Massachusetts, about three-quarters of voters making more than $200,000 supported him.
Santorum, in turn, did well among less affluent voters. In Ohio and Tennessee, he claimed about 4 in 10 voters reporting an income between $50,000 and $99,000. In Oklahoma, he won about 4 in 10 voters who made less than $50,000.
SOUTHERNERS DON’T LIKE ROMNEY
Look where Romney is winning. It’s not in the South.
Romney does well in the Northeast and Midwest, but he is running weak below the Mason-Dixon line. South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee — and, to the west, Oklahoma — all have rejected Romney. The upcoming calendar gives him scant reason to be optimistic: Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana all have contests this month.
Sure, Romney won Florida, but that is hardly a Southern state by tradition. And Virginia was a contest between only Romney and Paul — hardly a real choice among rank-and-file Republicans who see the Texas congressman as outside the mainstream of conservative positions.
Can Romney become the GOP nominee if he can’t win in the party’s only regional stronghold?
OHIO IS WHERE IT’S AT
Step aside, Florida. Ohio remains the ultimate down-to-the-wire presidential state.
Ohio is a microcosm of the country. It has urban centers and sprawling farms. It has diversity in both race and income. It has conservative strongholds in the southwest corner, where Sen. Rob Portman rallied his neighbors to deliver votes for Romney. It has liberal bastions in the northeast, near Cleveland, where moderates sometimes defect to Republicans. Its eastern and southern edges are Appalachia and tend to be filled with more swing voters.
In the end, Romney won the state that no Republican has ever lost on a successful White House run.
PAUL A NONFACTOR
Another primary night went by without Paul winning a primary. Sure, he picked up delegates and he increased the chances he will have a say in deciding the party’s platform come the convention in Tampa. But he isn’t posting the wins he needs if he’s going to be the late-surging nominee.
Romney offered faint praise to Paul “for his steadfast commitment to our Constitution and his strong support almost everywhere you go. He’s got good followers.”
Just not enough so far, it seems.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press