Well, the results are (mostly) in, and Santorum will win both Mississippi and Alabama. I’m a little surprised he pulled it off since his numbers had been slipping, but there are some important take away points from tonight.
1. Tonight changes nothing from the perspective of the race. Think about it. How are we in a different place than we were last night? Mitt Romney still isn’t pulling the “conservative” crowd over to his side, but still has a substantial delegate lead. Rick Santorum is still riding his momentum with the conservative base and winning states, but he didn’t expand his lead over Gingrich tonight in any significant way due to the narrow margin of his victories. Gingrich is still behind and not catching up any. He is treading water in third place, no better or worse than he was before. Ron Paul still exists. At the end of the day, nothing actually changed.
2. There’s no reason to expect Gingrich to drop out after not winning MS and AL, particularly since he almost pulled it off. He’ll point out that he beat Mitt Romney in both states and came very close to catching Santorum as well. He’ll point to the dissatisfaction of the conservative voter with Romney and the strength of his showing. As mentioned in point 1, since little has changed, there’s no new reason for Gingrich to drop, and arguably less since he will pick up almost as many delegates as Santorum tonight. I know Santorum’s supporters will be ruffled by this, but let’s face it- people wanted Santorum out after he fell flat in South Carolina and not listening to them when his campaign was on life support turned out to be a good decision. Santorum might be able to beat Romney without Gingrich in the race, but the flip side of that applies too. Other than the marginal delegate lead over Gingrich (substantially less than Romney’s lead over him) there’s just no reason for him to say Gingrich should drop. It’s not that Newt is spoiling it for him, it’s that they’re spoiling it for each other. Either of them could feel much more justified in asking Paul to drop and try to support them in taking down Romney, but they know they wouldn’t gain any significant support by doing that so they’re leaving that issue alone since Paul’s supporters are much more candidate-loyal.
3. At the end of the night, no one is happy. Sure, Santorum gets to claim “victory”, but it’s not significant enough to help him chip away at Romney’s lead or expand the lead over Gingrich. He’ll essentially tread water despite the victories. The delegate math is still bad for him and he knows it. Romney gets to claim that he performed better than expected, but his pandering in the South didn’t deliver him any wins and only provided more material for media jokes about the odd things he says in states when he’s working a little too hard to “fit in”. He’s still in the best delegate position, but every big delegate take where he doesn’t expand his lead is one step closer to a brokered convention. Gingrich gets to point out that his campaign came from behind to snag almost as many delegates as the winner, but in reality it is clear his Southern strategy is not working. He needed wins tonight for visual momentum if nothing else and he didn’t get it. The delegate math is also ugly for him and despite picking up the 2nd place in both contests tonight, it’s also not going to change the balance for him significantly.
4. Santorum and Gingrich should be watched. As mentioned above, there’s no more reason for Newt to drop now than before, so Rick isn’t going to get that lucky. What is odd are the comments Newt made at an event about teaming up against Romney in the ad war and the compliments he sent Santorum’s way tonight at his concession speech, all the while blasting Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Even if it is forged out of desperation, some sort of arrangement between Gingrich and Santorum could be in the works.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Everyone seems a little annoyed (no matter which side you’re on) tonight, and I think that’s the atmosphere we’re going to be running with all the way to Tampa.