The combination of his win in Florida and Rudy’s expected endorsement make John McCain the front-runner, but not the nominee. The exit polls that show Romney winning by significant margins among conservative and very conservative voters set up next Tuesday’s races as the moment when the GOP will chose to stop the Arizona maverick or concede that it is his turn. The shadow of the ’96 Dole campaign will fall on McCain now, and the prospect of an Obama-McCain fall campaign will be the key consideration for Huckabee voters over the next seven days. Huck’s voters are conservative or very conservative, and if they stay with Huck because they like him better than Romney, they hand the nomination to McCain.
If an ABM Treaty emerges –anybody but McCain– the smoke will clear a week from now on a delegate hunt that will continue through the Pennsylvania primary in late April, seven contests in May, and the June 3rd elections in New Mexico and South Dakota. McCain could conceivably seal the deal next week by running the table, but if Romney can rally enough of the conservatives, he can force the race into the final innings.
Until tonight, Romney was up by 27 delegates. Tonight he is behind by 30 delegates.
Until tonight Romney was up by a few thousand votes of all the votes cast. Tonight he is behind by a few thousand votes of all the votes cast.
Romney’s speech tonight was exactly the sort of speech he needs to give again and again for the next week. The conservatives aren’t going to throw in the towel which means Romney has the chance to go from underdog to the last man standing opposite McCain next week.