Opening Act: Six Lessons from the Primaries That Effectively Ended the Race

Last night, Rick Santorum declared the start of the Pennsylvania primary, compared Mitt Romney to the bad guys in the Revolutionary War, and implied that he was ready to go the distance. I’d argue that “going the distance” works better in an early Stallone film than it does in a months-long primary with very little doubt about the ultimate victor.

1) Mitt Romney is now winning the Republican vote easily (outside of the South). In Ohio, when his current march to dominance began, Mitt Romney won registered Republicans by a 41-37 margin over Rick Santorum. It was a solid victory, compared to his overall 38-37 squeaker. In Illinois, it was 51-36. In Wisconsin it was 50-37. In the end, it was Wisconsin Democrats – possibly fans of Santorum’s old views of collective bargaining – who kept their state competitive. Add to this that 66 percent of Wisconsinites said they’d be satisfied with a Romney nod, and you can see why the campaign is already moving on.

2) Finally, the dragged-out campaign is helping the candidates. Yes, I’ve seen the polls showing Republican enthusiasm flagging as this drags on. Whatever. Wisconsin will be a key general election state. Pennsylvania, too. Four years ago only 410,607 Wisconsinites voted in the GOP primary. This year, before the last numbers are in: 694,159. Santorum got more voting in losing the state than McCain got when he won it. The organizing, on both sides, can’t possibly hurt Republicans.

3) Rick Santorum can close, sort of. There were polls showing the perpetual loser as far as 10 points behind Romney in Wisconsin. He lost by 5. The secret: a 42-38 winning margin with the 36 percent of voters who decided “in the last few days.” Santorum campaigned relentlessly in Wisconsin, getting in at least daily one free media bounty by lacing on bowling shoes and (for reasons that escape me) generating pangs of excitement in the press and photo corps.

4) The end of proportional voting will end everything else. April marks the start of the period when states are allowed to assign delegates winner-take-all without penalties. How does that effect the count? Well: In Louisiana, Rick Santorum won 49 percent of the vote to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent. That gave Santorum 10 delegates to Romney’s five. Maryland ended up with a similar (reversed) vote count: Romney 49 percent, Santorum 29 percent. The result: 31 delegates for Romney, none for Santorum. I keep shaking my fist at clouds and saying this, but the fact that most Southern primaries ended up on the proportional vote calendar meant that Romney survived them with a clutch of delegates.

5) Dept. of Trivia I. The closest Wisconsin county result was a 1125 to 1121 buzzer-beater in the southwest corner of the state. The name of the county: Iowa. The winner: Romney, this time.

6) Dept of Trivia II. Only two candidates – Mitt Romney, Ron Paul – made the ballot in all three regions of the beltway. There were 509,116 votes cast, total, in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia. Mitt Romney ended up with 54.8 percent of that vote. Ron Paul: 25.8 percent. Rick Santorum: 13.6 percent. Newt Gingrich: 5.2 percent. If we accept the premise that this race was ever really winnable for a not-Romney, it was lost when Gingrich and Santorum failed to make the Virginia ballot, handing 46 delegates to Romney and freeing him to campaign elsewhere.