By Markos Moulitsas - 03/13/12 10:45 PM EDT
On the campaign trail on Monday, Mitt Romney brushed aside charges that he was a weak front-runner. “If I’m a weak front-runner, what does that make Newt Gingrich?”
Geez, Mitt. Talk about setting the bar low. Of course Newt’s weak. And so is Rick Santorum.
Meanwhile, Santorum is the guy who suffered a historic 17-point loss as an incumbent senator in battleground Pennsylvania. His presidential campaign has been a ludicrously broad caricature of the regressive social conservative, railing against birth control, gay equality, college education and women in the workplace and military.
There’s always Ron Paul, of course, but at this point he’s just an appendage of the Romney effort.
Yet despite vastly outspending these political dwarves, Romney is still incapable of putting this race away. In Ohio, he outspent Santorum roughly 11-1, or $11 million to $1 million, and eked out a 2-point win. Romney dropped $4.3 million on his home state of Michigan — twice what Santorum spent — and the result was a near-split in the delegate totals.
In total, as of the end of February, the Romney campaign and his super-PAC have spent over $100 million, compared to about $20 million total for Santorum and $40 million for Gingrich. In other words, Romney isn’t winning on the merits of his candidacy, but because his super-PAC is carpet-bombing his rivals. Excluding his super-PAC, the Romney campaign by itself has spent $17.14 per vote thus far, compared to $9.05 for Gingrich and $2.54 for Santorum.
Even with all the money and establishment advantages (the Michigan state party literally stole a delegate from Santorum and gave it to Romney, while Romney won seven of nine delegates in the Virgin Islands despite losing the popular vote to Paul), Romney is still a long way from winning the delegates he needs to clinch the nomination.
While delegate counts are sketchy, given the GOP’s convoluted delegate-selection process — particularly in caucus states — Romney had around 454 delegates prior to Tuesday’s contests in Alabama and Mississippi. That was more than double Santorum’s 217, and more than four times Gingrich’s 107 (or so) delegates.
So yeah, Romney is winning the delegate count, and he’s got a nice little lead. But it’s a long way home from here. He still needs about 690 more delegates to reach the threshold of 1,144 needed for victory. That’s about 47 percent of the delegates in the remaining states. He’s won 54 percent in primaries and caucuses to date, so you might think he’s on track to wrap things up. Maybe. But it will almost certainly take a long time.
Indeed, assuming current trends and barring the exit of both Santorum and Gingrich, it’s quite probable that Romney won’t be able to close the deal until June, at the earliest. That’s when the Romney-friendly states of California, New Jersey and Utah deliver their 259 delegates. So it’s likely that the GOP’s primary contest will drag out another three long months.
A strong front-runner would have dispatched his weak opponents by now. But Mitt Romney is certainly not one of those.
Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com)