Need an example? Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday that Romney victories in Ohio and Tennessee would mean “he’s got a good case to make that it’s over.”
Romney won Ohio — barely — and lost in the Volunteer State, meaning Graham and others are nonplussed.
As he holds a lead in delegates, Romney also has the most support among GOP lawmakers. He has at least 16 senators and 67 House lawmakers in his camp; Newt Gingrich trails with the support of 11 former House colleagues; Rick Santorum has four House lawmakers; and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)and two other House lawmakers backing him, according to a tally maintained by Roll Call.
But Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), another Romney backer, said a less-than convincing result Tuesday night would make it difficult for his undecided colleagues to jump in.
“When Romney’s running only against the president and not against [Gingrich and Santorum], it’ll be a good sign,” he said Tuesday.
Although the field continues to split state victories, Romney’s lead in the delegate count is already wide, and his rivals’ chances of overcoming it are slim, writes Karen Tumulty:
The GOP nomination contest was designed to play out more slowly than in the past. Through the end of this month, states are required to allocate their delegates in proportion to the votes each candidate receives. That means just about everyone comes away from just about every contest with something to show for it — and a rationale for continuing to the next one.
And while the emptying of a campaign’s bank account used to spell the end for a candidate, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have been kept on life support by billionaire supporters who have taken advantage of changes in campaign law to pour millions into independent super PACs that support the candidates.
At the same time, party leaders and rank-and-file Republicans are increasingly anxious to bring the process to a conclusion, to spare their eventual nominee further attacks from within the party fold. It is becoming more apparent that a lengthy primary battle could have a corrosive effect on the GOP’s prospects in the fall against a Democratic incumbent whom most Republicans are desperate to defeat.
“The next couple of weeks will be dominated by different groups of people accepting reality, which is that Mitt Romney will be the nominee,” predicted Steve Schmidt, a political strategist who ran day-to-day operations for GOP nominee John McCain in 2008. “There’s just not going to be much appetite in the Republican Party for a long, drawn-out primary when the outcome is clear.”