We are not impressed.
If Mitt Romney can't muster over 40% of the vote in a backyard state against a field of sub-par candidates with extreme positions on the issues, then he's not ready yet for his curtain call. Yes, it certainly was a good day for Romney, but not as good as his victory speech would indicate.
He'll win the nomination, but two things are abundantly clear. The first is that Romney still hasn't galvanized his party as a candidate, and the second is that Republican enthusiasm is turning out to be somewhat of a myth.
Let's get to the numbers.
Here's what I said would happen (left) and here's what actually happened (right):
Romney 38% 39.4%
Paul 19% 22.8%
Huntsman 16% 16.8%
Gingrich 11% 9.4%
Santorum 10% 9.3%
Roemer 3% 0.4%
Perry 1% 0.7%
As in Iowa, not bad. I seem to have underestimated Ron Paul's reliable support and overestimated Buddy Roemer's, but I don't think I was alone.
If present reports are true, all of the candidates are moving on to South Carolina where the PAC-men will be gobbling up money and air time in their quest for Romney's scraps. This will be Citizens United writ not on the main stage, but as regional summer stock theater. Millions of dollars that otherwise could be spent on more significant pursuits will be sucked down the rabbit hole of ego and vanity. That's the new democracy at work, and we'd all better get used to it because when the campaign moves to Broadway in the fall, there's going to be an ad war like no other.
South Carolina is the last stand for Huntsman, Santorum and Perry to be sure unless any of them pull wild upsets and finish in the top 3, and above 20%. Gingrich could stay in if he's in the top 3 because he now has PAC money and Paul and his minions will stick around for the duration. Romney can claim the nomination with a dominant performance, over 40%, but 30% will be enough to make him inevitable.
Follow the march to the south at facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives.