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Wins, Delegates and the Long GOP Fight Ahead

Whitney Curtis/Getty Images
Mitt Romney came in third Tuesday in primaries in Alabama and Mississippi. But the chatter that the losses were bad news for the former governor doesn’t ring true, Stuart Rothenberg writes.

Driving into work on Wednesday morning, listening to parts of Morning Joe and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC on my radio, I was struck by how much I disagreed with all of the post-primary analysis.

The topic du jour, of course, was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romneys primary losses on Tuesday.

Maybe it was because I spent much of the previous week outside Washington, D.C., and was not in hourly touch with the latest Romney campaign comment, but I never expected him to win either of the Deep South states. If he did, I told an audience Tuesday afternoon, I would be surprised and Id consider it a huge development.

So when he lost both Alabama and Mississippi, I yawned, noting however, that both states were an almost three-way photo finish and therefore a nearly equal division of delegates.

But if you listened to two of the only three MSNBC shows I still consider watching (the other is Andrea Mitchell Reports) Wednesday morning, you would have thought Tuesday was a very big dose of bad news for the former governor.

Lets be clear. Romney carries certain primary constituencies and loses others. Mississippi and Alabama looked like inhospitable places for him, and he came in third. Thats a dog-bites-man story.

We are at the point in the GOP race where observers should be transitioning quickly from wins to delegates, and on Tuesday, neither former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) nor former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) gained ground on Romney in the crucial delegate hunt.

But isnt Romney weak because he cant win in core Republican states? That was the post-mortem chatter.

Here is the answer: No. Romney is stronger than Santorum and Gingrich among the kinds of voters urban and suburban, upscale, the less religious, the more moderate and moderately conservative who will pick the next president in swing states. Who cares that he is weaker than his GOP rivals in South Carolina, Alabama and even Tennessee?

In fact, a candidate whose greatest appeal is to evangelical, very conservative voters probably is going to have a hard time in Northern Virginia; suburban Denver; suburban Clark County, Nevada; suburban Ohio and Floridas I-4 corridor the moderate voters in swing states who will elect the next president.

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