Romney, one step closer

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Mitt Romney swept the three primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington D.C. in his race for the GOP nomination. It was an outcome that was expected particularly in Maryland and the District of Columbia. However all eyes were on Wisconsin, where Romney was leading in the polls lately but where the race between him and Rick Santorum had been tight for weeks. With his commanding performance here, the former Massachusetts governor claimed the fourth consecutive victory in must-win industrial, midwestern states, after Michigan, Ohio and Illinois.

The case for Santorum’s prolonged candidacy grows thinner by the day. Even constituencies that had been resisting Romney as the inevitable nominee appeared to come around to him in Wisconsin. He won a plurality of votes by lower income primary-goers and by those without a college degree, as well as by self-described “very conservative” Republicans and Tea Partiers. He trailed Santorum by only three percentage points (38% to 41%) among evangelical or born-again Christians, a group Romney has been particularly struggling with.

With his clean sweep in Maryland, D.C. and Wisconsin, Romney increased his lead in the delegate-count by nearly one hundred. Unsurprisingly, in his victory speech from Milwaukee, he did not even mention his rivals for the Republican nomination, but instead focused on the general election and his upcoming battle against President Barack Obama. “Under Barack Obama, America hasn’t been working,” he said.

The GOP primary season will now take a three-week pause before voting resumes on April 24th with primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Rhode Island and, more importantly, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is Santorum’s home state and, at this point, his last resort. Speaking from the Keystone State after his stinging defeat in Wisconsin, Santorum told supporters that this is only “halftime”, and that the race for the nomination goes on. “Pennsylvania and half the other people in this country have yet to be heard,” he said. “And we’re going to go out and campaign across this nation to make sure their voices are heard.”

The most recent Pennsylvania poll, by Quinnipiac University, shows Santorum in the lead, 41% to Romney’s 35%. But the gap between the two opponents has been narrowing in recent days. It is also worth remembering that Santorum resoundingly lost the last Pennsylvania statewide race he ran – in 2006 when he was up for re-election as a US Senator – by a whopping 18%.

With Pennsylvania far from a done deal, and with several moderate northeastern states voting in April and likely to choose Romney, Santorum might very well go the entire month without even a single win. This is an outcome that would almost certainly force him out of the race, handing the nomination to Romney although the former Massachusetts governor might take until early June to amass an outright majority of delegates.