published Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

A presidential muddle

While former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remains the apparent front-runner in the quest for the Republican nomination for president, the divided primary wins in Super Tuesday’s voting did not give his campaign the inevitability that he undoubtedly was seeking.

Results were not in at this writing for some of the 10 states that voted Tuesday, but Romney got expected wins in Massachusetts and Vermont. He also won Virginia, where only he and Texas Congressman Ron Paul — but not former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum nor former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — were on the ballot. Still, Paul had a surprisingly good showing against Romney, who has not managed to generate great voter enthusiasm despite his front-runner status.

In Georgia, Gingrich won handily, as expected.

Things briefly seemed dicier here in Tennessee, where Santorum’s big lead in pre-election polls shrank in the face of a late media onslaught by Gingrich and Romney. But with heavy tea party, evangelical and other conservative backing, Santorum rolled to a strong victory in the Volunteer State. He parlayed the same support to a win in Oklahoma.

That turned attention to Ohio, a delegate-rich state where Santorum and Romney were about even in polls leading up to Super Tuesday. At press time, Santorum was leading, but the race remained too close to call.

Caucuses were held in Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota, though those states had fewer delegates at stake than most of the other states voting Tuesday, and results were not available at press time.

Romney is benefiting both from his ample campaign financing and from the fact that the more conservative Santorum and Gingrich are splitting the conservative vote in various states. Whether either of them will step aside and create a head-to-head match-up with Romney is unclear.

For now, Romney seems to hold the momentum in the GOP contest — but it is tenuous and could shift rapidly depending on what the other candidates do in coming weeks.

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