Every Republican running for president got something on Super Tuesday. Not all they wanted, but enough to convince themselves to carry on, making it likely the GOP race goes on for months, not weeks.
Ron Paul didn't finally win a state. But he took 41% of the vote in Virginia—his highest percentage in this primary season—and picked up 22 delegates in the evening's 10 contests.
Newt Gingrich won Georgia—the state that elected him to Congress for nearly two decades—with almost half the vote, a strong performance. He would have lost all credibility had he lost. He had failed to turn in enough signatures to get on the Virginia ballot, and he came in third in the other Southern states up for grabs on Tuesday, behind Rick Santorum (who took the gold medal in Tennessee and Oklahoma) and Mitt Romney (who took the silver in both). The former House speaker must now win Alabama or Mississippi next week even to remain a regional candidate.
Mr. Santorum won three states, adding a surprise win in the North Dakota caucuses to his two Southern victories. He almost doubled his delegate count, going to 176 from 92, according to the Associated Press tally. And he nearly won the critical battleground state of Ohio, until late returns from Cleveland and Cincinnati and their suburbs erased his lead after midnight.
Mitt Romney won the most Tuesday night—most states (six of 10), most votes, and most delegates. He nearly erased the gap among non-college graduates that's plagued him throughout the primaries, and he once again carried Catholic voters despite the presence of Mr. Santorum, a deeply committed Catholic.
Mr. Romney picked up a majority of the night's delegate haul, winning 212 of the 394 awarded by the AP (29 more are still to be parceled out).
This gives Mr. Romney 415 delegates—54% of those won so far, and more than a third of the 1,144 needed for the nomination. Mr. Santorum trails with 176, followed by Mr. Gingrich with 105 and Mr. Paul with 47.
Next week's contests may be unkind to Mr. Romney, with Mississippi and Alabama dominated by evangelicals and strong conservatives. But these states award delegates proportionally, which could result in a split as in Oklahoma on Tuesday, where Mr. Santorum's victory yielded 14 delegates to Mr. Romney's 13 and Mr. Gingrich's 13.
And unlike his opponents, Mr. Romney has the organization and resources to fight on every front, engage in every contest, and weather rough days. He appears ready to grind out a victory—and well-positioned to win the presidency.
Despite their public bravado about the supposed damage the lengthy primary season is doing to the GOP candidates, Team Obama is worried. They know the recovery is weak, voters are reluctant to give the president much credit for whatever good economic news there is, and GDP growth is likely to slow from last year's fourth quarter pace of 3% (on an annual basis).
This knowledge led President Obama to schedule a press conference Tuesday afternoon to try to upstage news about the Super Tuesday contests, and it's why his campaign told congressional Democrats not to expect any financial assistance from the Democratic National Committee. The DNC needs every dollar to rescue Mr. Obama's floundering fund-raising efforts and cover his campaign's high burn rate.
Worry has also led Democrats and their media allies to highlight the supposedly lethal effects of the slow, often angry GOP contest. But before getting too gleeful, they should take a stroll down memory lane.
In April 2008, ABC News reported that "Negative Campaign Tarnishes Clinton, Obama" while CNN called the Pennsylvania primary a "bruising . . . race" marked by "sharp attacks . . . tough mailers and . . . attack ads." Even the New York Times opined in a May 2008 piece titled "Loss and Furor Take Toll on Obama" that the candidate's "aura of inevitability . . . has diminished."
Every primary takes a short-term toll on the nominee, who emerges bruised and battered, but often stronger. That was the case four years ago and may be the case this year as well.
Given a choice between a rambunctious primary and an awful economic record, I'd take the former. So would Mitt Romney. And I'm guessing, so would Barack Obama.
This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, March 7, 2012.