The mixed results from Super Tuesday’s primaries made it impossible for Mitt Romney to quickly seal up the Republican presidential nomination and are delaying any chance of consolidating his support on Capitol Hill.
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.”
But Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), an active Romney supporter, said Republican lawmakers should be convinced by the governor’s victories.
“If you look at total delegates available, Mitt Romney has won more than 50 percent of them,” Chaffetz said Wednesday morning. “So you’re winning the majority of the delegates — not just a plurality — and that’s a pretty good case to make.”
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.
The race shifts next to the South, where Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana will hold contests by month’s end. Neither of Alabama’s senators is picking sides.
“I haven’t made any predictions or endorsements,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Tuesday as he rushed for elevators off the Senate floor.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) was equally coy Wednesday. Using a football metaphor, he said that in Alabama, “The coach says, we’re going to see who wins it on the practice field. Somebody’s going to step up and separate themselves, as they say.”
So why are so many Republicans waiting to make a choice?
“It’s respectful to allow other candidates a shot,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said Wednesday. “Most of our constituents feel strongly one way or the other. I certainly have heard from some of my constituents who weren’t happy about my endorsement” of Romney.
Even though he’s not picking sides, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said he’s sympathetic to all four contenders.
“I’m not going to call for anyone to drop out,” he added. “I really think they’ve all got ideas that the other ones have to adopt. That’s the key to this race.”
In the House, Romney backer Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) said big victories for his candidate would mean, “It is game, set, match, it is all over.”
And even if that didn’t happen, McHenry urged colleagues to accept the inevitable.
“It may be time-consuming, it may be costly, but at the end of the day, Mitt is going to be the nominee,” he said Tuesday.
Chaffetz said colleagues facing tough re-elections should be eager to wrap things up.
“Candidates for Congress are tethered to the presidential candidate whether they like it not,” he said in a conversation Tuesday. “They have a vested interest in making the presidential candidate as strong as possible.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), an uncommitted member, agreed. “If you believe there’s a finite sum of money that’s going to be invested in presidential politics, do you want to see it go for the primary, or would you like to see our candidate going into August and September with several hundred million instead of flat broke because they had a long primary?”
Several Republicans appeared uneager and uncomfortable discussing the issue, preferring instead to stay focused on legislative matters.
In the words of Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.): “People sent me up here to focus on being a good congressional representative, not worrying about being a cheerleader in a food fight.”
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost
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