Going into Super Tuesday, it was hardly unreasonable to think the fight for the Republican presidential nomination would effectively be over this morning. So much for that idea.
Mitt Romney, outspending Rick Santorum four-to-one in Super Tuesday states, had just put together a string of wins in Arizona, Michigan, and Washington, and looked well positioned to win as many as nine of the 11 states voting yesterday. Yesterday would be a triumph for the former governor, answering the questions surrounding the Romney campaign once and for all.
But as the dust settles on Super Tuesday, the results actually reinforce a very different question: why can't this guy wrap up the nomination?
At one level, the results looked pretty good for Romney -- he won seven states yesterday, including Ohio. But the margin in the Buckeye State was extremely close, despite Romney's $4 million investment in Ohio; he underperformed in several other states; and he ended up losing four contests, including a primary in Tennessee he'd hoped to win.
Romney performed just well enough to remain the frontrunner, and just poorly enough to look weak and keep the Republican race going indefinitely.
In other words, last night looked an awful lot like the GOP nominating race thus far: Romney heavily outspending his weak rivals and putting together ambivalent victories, bolstered by a party that feels compelled to back him, even if it doesn't want to.
If Republican leaders, officials, and voters see the Super Tuesday and feel good about the state of their party, they're just not paying close enough attention. A weak frontrunner, struggling to put away ridiculous and underfunded challengers, is not a recipe for national success.
What's next? Kansas Republicans will caucus this Saturday, followed by contests in Alabama, Hawaii, and Mississippi on Tuesday. Missouri will hold its more meaningful caucuses on March 17 -- not to be confused with its largely-meaningless primary last month -- followed by an Illinois primary on March 20 and Louisiana primary on March 24.