Last night’s 10 state run-off failed to pick a Republican candidate to challenge President Obama in November’s US election.
While Mitt Romney picked up the most delegates and beat Rick Santorum in the critical swing state of Ohio, the Republican Party civil war will continue as Santorum, Newt Gingrich and even poor performing Ron Paul have vowed to fight on.
The Republican National Committee’s inability to end this dog-fight shows the emerging importance (and unfairness) of Super PACs funded by ideological billionaires who are funding Santorum and Gingrich.
The Democrats are benefitting from a divided party whose highly vocal religious wing is pushing independent and swing voters to their camp.
This prolonged fight is almost unprecedented in Presidential nomination races and the blood spilled now is likely to continue until late spring by which time the bigger contests will be decided.
This will take precious campaigning time and money away from firing at the Democrats and damage Republican election prospects in November. Republicans I know are desperate to coalesce around a nationally viable figure and admit that the fight this autumn will be on economic issues.
This is good for Romney whose strongest point is his business acumen and suggests that Romney is, as criticised by his rivals, the establishment favourite.
Yet, in the primaries social issues still remain important. Polls in southern states with lots of delegates show voters are put off by Romney’s Mormon religion and do not rate him as sufficiently conservative on social issues.
The winning candidate at the August party convention must win support from 1144 delegates. The complete numbers of delegates allocated have not yet been reported but as of print time, Romney had secured 347, Santorum 148, Gingrich 83 and Ron Paul 46 total delegates.
The big-ticket race was in Ohio where Romney and Santorum were neck and neck. Romney defeated Santorum by just 1 per cent. Yet the win of this critical battleground state is symbolically important and will boost Romney’s momentum.
Two weeks ago, it looked like Santorum could pose a real challenge to Romney in the contest. National polls of Republicans showed Romney trailing Santorum who was successfully attacking Romney for being out of touch with working class Americans and flip-flopping on social issues and healthcare.
That is not so now: Santorum’s diversion to social issues like contraception, the separation of church and state and a comment about universities indoctrinating children with liberal ideas sparked wide debate and damaged his lead.
A Gallup poll now shows Romney ahead, with support from 38 per cent of Republican voters compared to Santorum’s 22 per cent.
Super Tuesday has not sufficiently changed the Republican field but Romney won the support he needed. The Democrats will hope that this divided party will continue its wrangling through August.
Idil Oyman is an Associate Director at Portland and spent 12 years in Washington, including working for the Republicans on Capitol Hill.