G.O.P. in Chaos: Brokered Convention More Likely After Tuesday Primaries

It wasn't supposed to happen this way. But after outspending Rick Santorum by a ratio of 5 to 1 in campaigns for the Alabama and Mississippi Republican presidential primaries, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, lost both states to the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania -- "a guy who doesn't have a pollster," tweeted whoever lives behind the Twitter handle, The Democratic Machine.

Romney didn't even manage to make the number two spot in either contest; he came in third in both.

The pollsters had predicted this would be close one for Romney, but not against Santorum, who was running behind Romney by some eight or 10 points in the polls. Romney's threat in the south was supposed to be former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is something of a favorite son of the region. Romney might squeak out one of the two contests, the thinking went, and come in second to Gingrich in the other -- which wouldn't have been that big of a deal, since Gingrich had only won a single primary, in South Carolina, at that point. Santorum, Romney told CNN, "was at the desperate end of his campaign." Instead, Santorum trumped Romney in both primaries.  That's how much Southern Republicans don't like Mitt Romney, who is not only regarded as a less than "severe conservative," as he termed himself in February; he's not regarded as much of a conservative at all.

Rout of Romney = One Big Mess

So, the Republican Party is in turmoil. A new national poll has Santorum edging out Romney for frontrunner status, with 34 percent of Republican primary voters compared to Romney's 30 percent, even though most of the voters surveyed admitted that they still expect Romney to win the nomination.

In Tuesday's Southern contests, CBS News reported these results:

With almost all of the precincts reporting in Alabama, Santorum earned 35 percent support, with Newt Gingrich barely edging Mitt Romney out for second as each won about 29 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, with nearly all of the votes in, Santorum led his rivals with 33 percent support, while Gingrich followed him with 31 percent. Romney came in third with 30 percent.

It was so bad for Romney that he left the South without sticking around to make a post-primary speech (though he did call for an end to Planned Parenthood in a television interview in Kirkwood, Mo., earlier in the day). Still that's thin gruel for a crowd that apparently goes in for Santorum's opposition to birth control, period, or his claim that Satan has set his sights on the United States of America, or his diatribe against public education.

What Santorum's big Tuesday wins bring him is momentum as the race moves ahead to Missouri, already proven to be Santorum-friendly territory in the state's beauty-contest primary last month (delegates won't be awarded until caucuses that take place this weekend) and Illinois on March 20, where Santorum will likely use his rust-belt credentials to good effect.

Gingrich Vows to Stay In

In his second-place valedictory tonight, Gingrich helpfully pointed out that in a contest he defined as between two conservatives (meaning himself and Santorum) and one non-conservative (Romney), "the conservative candidates got nearly 70 percent of the vote..," which likely had something to do with what sounded like an oblique appeal from Santorum for Gingrich to get out of the race. "The time is now for conservatives to pull together," Santorum said, "and the best chance to win this election...is to nominate a conservative to go up against Barack Obama on every issue."

Over the weekend, at a gathering of religious-right Santorum-backers in Houston, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins called Gingrich “the most influential guy in American politics right now." Perkins added, "He could be a kingmaker.” But Gingrich has no plans to preside over a Santorum coronation. In his post-primary remarks on Tuesday night in Birmingham, Ala., Gingrich promised to stay in the race until the convention.

As the race drags on, it gets harder for Romney to accumulate the 1,144 delegates to the Republican National Convention that he'll need in order to win the nomination outright. He's way ahead of his rivals in the delegate count, but if he can't make the nomination mark, it could be up to delegates to determine the nominee on the convention floor, in what is known as a brokered convention. Gingrich apparently relishes the thought.

As the Washington Post reported Gingrich's remarks:

"When the primaries are over, and it’s clear no one person has won," Gingrich said, convention delegates would ask themselves, "who would do the best job?"

Newt's superPAC sugar-daddy, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, has stated his intention to keep fueling the Gingrich-allied group, Winning Our Future, as long as it takes to keep Santorum from moving too far ahead. If he remains true to his pledge, the G.O.P. field will be a bloody mess by the time the general election campaign takes off.

Self-Inflicted Punishment

The chaos in the G.O.P. presidential contest is self-inflicted, brought about by new rules put in place by former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who actually wanted a brokered convention, reportedMother Jones' David Corn earlier this week. Republicans wanted to create excitement, so they fixed the system so that the contest couldn't be won too early. Looks like they fixed it real good.

In both Alabama and Mississippi, delegates are awarded proportionately, so none of the three top candidates came away tonight empty-handed. In fact, Romney nearly tied Santorum for delegates in Mississippi (12 and 13, respectively), despite coming in behind Gingrich, who garnered 11. In Alabama, Romney fared worse, winning only seven delegates, compared with nine for Gingrich and 15 for Santorum, according to CBS News. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas came away with none.

There were also contests tonight in Hawaii and American Samoa, but those results were not yet in at press time.

As the night drew to a close on the mainland, Mitt Romney's campaign sent out a tweet:

Will be a late night waiting for results from American Samoa and HI but a big THANK YOU to everyone who voted in MS and AL.

AlterNet / By Adele M. Stan

Posted at March 13, 2012, 8:16pm

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018
Today's Top Stories