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Salon: Newt’s billionaire is getting his money’s worth
Super Tuesday marked the triumph of Sheldon Adelson’s plan to help Mitt Romney by bankrolling Gingrich
-By Steve Kornacki
March 7, 2012- In Michigan last week and in Ohio last night, Mitt Romney came within a few points of suffering defeats that the political world would have regarded as catastrophic. In both states, his margin of victory over Rick Santorum was smaller than the share of the vote won by a third candidate, Newt Gingrich. In Ohio, Gingrich’s effect was particularly pronounced: Romney won the state by one point, or about 12,500 votes, and the former speaker took 15 percent, or about 175,000 votes.
As narrow as they were, the Michigan and Ohio outcomes had serious psychological value for Romney. The Michigan vote was the culmination of what amounted to a weeks-long viability test him; losing by even one vote would have plunged his campaign into crisis, sent key Republican opinion-shapers into a panic, and raised the possibility of Santorum actually winning the nomination. In victory, Romney managed to calm the waters, but a surprise loss in Ohio last night would brought all the turmoil back. As it was, Super Tuesday was an unexpectedly shaky night for him, but it could have been far worse.
Is Gingrich the reason Romney averted disaster last night? It’s impossible to say for sure, but a strong case can be built. In Ohio, Gingrich’s support was more spread out demographically and ideologically than Santorum’s, but he performed particularly well with certain groups that otherwise seemed to prefer Santorum. For instance, nearly a third of the GOP electorate identified as strong Tea Party backers. Santorum beat Romney by nine points (41 to 32 percent) among them, but Gingrich also won 20 percent of them. Santorum needed to run up as big a margin as possible with this group, since he lost to Romney among those who “somewhat” support the Tea Party, have no opinion on it, or are opposed to it, and Gingrich clearly got in his way.
Gingrich also stole a state, Georgia, that almost certainly would have gone for Santorum otherwise. The basic demographic profile of Georgia’s electorate, 39 percent “very conservative” and 64 percent evangelical, was a bad match for Romney, who is struggling (as he did in 2008) mightily in the South and areas that are culturally southern. But because Gingrich ran as a favorite son, the anti-Romney conservative vote — and a bundle of delegates — went to him in the Peach State. Plus, while Santorum netted positive headlines from his wins in Tennessee and Oklahoma, Gingrich’s strength in both states (24 percent of the vote and 28 percent, respectively) denied Santorum more impressive-seeming margins and extra delegates.