Michael Tomasky: Romney Barely Hanging On After Alabama and Mississippi

After Mitt Romney’s stunning third-place finish in Alabama and Mississippi, Santorum has a serious shot at the nomination—and Mitt’s campaign is taking on water.

Evan Vucci / AP Photo

So the results of the Scopes primary are in, and they are, in a way, not surprising. It doesn’t matter really who, whether Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, won Alabama or Mississippi. It’s great for Santorum that he won them. Bravo. But what matters even more for political analysis is that Mitt Romney finished third in both.

I should say that the great joke of Tuesday night—the joke on celebrating liberals, which they should very much keep in mind—is that, assuming (should one still write “assuming”?) Romney is the GOP nominee, he will win these two states in November hands down. He couldn’t possibly lose them against Barack Obama. People sometimes lose sight of that.

But the fact is that these voters said to him, “You are third.” And that still means something. As Gingrich said in his speech, “If you’re the frontrunner, and you keep coming in third, you’re not much of a frontrunner.” Just think back. If Santorum had been declared the Iowa winner the actual night of the Iowa caucuses, when he won, instead of days after ... if he’d been lucky enough to get just a couple of thousand more votes in both Michigan and Ohio ... Romney would be d-e-a-d now. Romney is just barely hanging on by the thinnest thread that exists. Lucky, very lucky, still to be in the race.

It was about this time in 1992 that Bill Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination—in Illinois, which for these Republicans is coming up very soon. But the difference is this. Clinton was basically seen already as the nominee, and Democrats, even though they were playing around with Jerry Brown, knew that Clinton was going to be their nominee, and the Brown people were just getting their ya-yas out before booking their tickets to the convention. This doesn’t feel like getting ya-yas out. This feels like: “No, we do not want him!” Santorum has a serious claim at this. He’s been very skillful and deserves credit for it. Some people (who, me?!) said a while ago that this was inevitable. Well, this is an interesting and new definition of inevitable.