Feature

Romney widens the gap

Mitt Romney solidified his lead with blowout victories in the Illinois and Puerto Rico primaries.

What happened
Mitt Romney solidified his lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination this week with two blowout victories in the Illinois and Puerto Rico primaries. In Illinois, Romney won 47 percent of the vote to Rick Santorum’s 35 percent, and netted 43 of the state’s 54 delegates. He now has 563 delegates to Santorum’s 263—making it virtually impossible, barring some major turn of events, for Santorum to catch up. The former Massachusetts governor is now almost halfway to obtaining the 1,144 delegates he needs to capture the Republican nomination. To finish the job, he must win 46 percent of the remaining delegates. Santorum would need 69 percent.

In his victory speech, Romney ignored his Republican rivals and pivoted toward a showdown with Obama. “It’s time to say this word: enough,” he said. “We deserve a president who believes in us, and I believe in the American people.” Romney’s resounding Illinois victory brought a welcome endorsement from former Florida governor and Republican heavyweight Jeb Bush, who said it was time for the party “to unite behind” Romney. Santorum’s campaign appeared to be in disarray, with little funding or logistical support. But he promised to revive it with first-place finishes in this week’s Louisiana primary, and in his home state of Pennsylvania, which votes on April 24.

What the editorials said
Once again, Romney has proved he’s the best man to take on Obama, said the Chicago Tribune. His message, which is “more attuned to economic rather than social issues,” has made him the party’s leading force in urban and suburban areas. And come November, it’ll be voters in metropolitan communities, not the socially conservative small towns and rural areas that typically favor Santorum, that will deliver battleground states such as Ohio, Florida, and Virginia.

Romney might be leading the race, said NationalReview.com, but his progress has been “painful and slow.” He consistently does well among affluent and moderate conservatives—the majority of voters in Illinois. But Romney has lost every state where evangelicals make up 50 percent of the electorate, and he polls poorly among low- and middle-income voters. If he wins the nomination, having Obama on the ballot will help him win over some of those groups. “But his trouble with blue-collar voters will not be so easily fixed.”

What the columnists said
The end of this “long and tortuous race” is finally in sight, said Jonathan Tobin in Commentary​Magazine.com. The Pennsylvania primary will now present an opportunity for the surging Romney to close out his opponent by beating him in his home state. But even if Santorum wins Pennsylvania and some remaining Southern states, his only remaining hope is to deny Romney the 1,144 delegates he needs, and hope for the best at an open convention.

This isn’t going to finish anytime soon, said Nate Silver in NYTimes​.com. The delegate math shows that Romney has little chance of winning the nomination until May 29, when Texas votes, and it’s more likely he won’t reach the magic number until the June 5 primaries in California and New Jersey. He might even have to wait until the June 26 Utah primary. The only way it’ll end sooner is if Santorum bows out, said Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post. But the combative Santorum shows no inclination to call it quits. Most Republican officeholders, meanwhile, are reluctant to pressure him to get out for the good of the party, out of fear of incurring the lasting enmity of “the conservative/Tea Party base.”

But the longer this campaign goes on, the more damage Romney suffers, said Andrew Romano in TheDailyBeast.com. “Since 1976, no serious contender, Democrat or Republican,” has watched his approval ratings fall as low as Romney’s have in recent months. The most recent poll found his unfavorable rating at 50 percent, with just 37.6 percent favorable. To beat Obama in November, Romney will have to make history—not simply by being one of the richest men elected president, or the first Mormon, “but by changing more minds that are more deeply set against him than any other nominee in recent history.”

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