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The GOP's Super Tuesday 'split decision': What it means
Mitt Romney won the most delegates, but Rick Santorum's surprisingly strong showing might be the night's big story
 
Rick Santorum speaks at an election night rally in a high school gymnasium in Steubenville, Ohio: The former Pennsylvania senator won Super Tuesday contests in Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Tennessee.
Rick Santorum speaks at an election night rally in a high school gymnasium in Steubenville, Ohio: The former Pennsylvania senator won Super Tuesday contests in Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Tennessee.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Republicans in 10 states voted to determine who will stand for them against President Obama in November — and delivered a less-than-definitive "split decision." Mitt Romney won Eastern Seaboard primaries in Virginia, Vermont, and Massachusetts, plus the Idaho caucuses. Newt Gingrich won the single biggest delegate prize, his home state of Georgia. And Rick Santorum won the other Southern state up for grabs, Tennessee, plus Oklahoma and North Dakota. In Ohio, home of Super Tuesday's most watched race, Romney eked out a narrow win over Santorum, and Alaska appears headed into the Romney column, too. What does Super Tuesday tell us about the state of the Republican presidential race? Here, five takeaways:

1. Romney won the delegate race
"The delegate count is what matters, and it's gonna make a difference in the three states we'll not be focusing on tonight: Virginia, Idaho, and Massachusetts," says Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast. Thanks to Mitt's decisive wins in those states, plus smaller district-by-district delegate grabs in states he didn't win, Romney is on track to take "the solid majority of delegates available on Super Tuesday," according to ABC News. Romney will be right to claim that "any result that leaves him much closer to the delegate count he needs to be the nominee is a big win," says Jonathan Tobin at Commentary.

2. But Santorum arguably won the night
The Pennsylvanian outperformed expectations, especially with his surprise pickup of North Dakota. Even without Ohio, "it's been a great night for Santorum," says Will Wilkinson at The Economist. His "wins are more impressive because he was so massively outspent by Romney in every contest," says Sullivan at The Daily Beast. Santorum trounced the putative frontrunner in the South, among evangelicals, and with white working-class voters. That arguably makes him at least "as electable as Mitt Romney up against Obama."

3. Nobody got knocked out of the race
Gingrich only won his home state of Georgia, and performed poorly everywhere else. But he was adamant that he's staying in the race to pursue his "Southern strategy" of racking up delegates. And with Santorum's big night, it's clear "the race will go on for some time, with both conservative underdogs continuing to drain Romney's resources and undermine his chances of uniting his party," says Commentary's Tobin. Neither Gingrich nor Santorum has a viable path to the nomination, and their persistence should scare anyone who thinks "Romney is the only conceivable Republican nominee in 2012," says David Frum at The Daily Beast. Obviously, "the Republican Party does not agree."

4. Romney still has a "Southern problem"
"All eyes seem to be on Ohio," but Super Tuesday's "real story seems to be in the South," says Scott Galupo at U.S. News. Namely, Romney's stubborn inability to win any states in Dixie, save uncontested Virginia. This "Southern problem" won't stop him from winning the South against Obama, but not since Gerald Ford has a Republican nominee had such scant enthusiasm in the "heart of the Republican national governing coalition." That's "not a good sign." Now that you mention it, tweets Salon's Alex Pareene, "it is sort of funny that the guy who just won Vermont is going to be the Republican nominee instead of the guy who won Georgia."

5. Ron Paul came up short
Paul's second-place finish in North Dakota robbed him of his "his best shot at winning a contest on Super Tuesday," says James Hohman at Politico. He also came in second in Vermont and Virginia — where he won a much-better-than-expected 41 percent of the vote — but he still hasn't won a single state, raising "more questions about his long-term viability." Even Paul's "Virginia surprise" won't help much "in the delegate chase," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. He won just three of the state's 46 delegates, with Romney taking the other 43.

 

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