Romney fails to seal the deal on Super Tuesday

Mitt Romney in Boston. Photo: 6 March 2012 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption In his speech, Mitt Romney talked of going "step-by-step, door-by-door" to a victory

The results on Super Tuesday can be like the mist lifting, bringing a new clarity to our view of the race, revealing a fresh landscape.

This time the picture is almost as murky as before; the outlines are unchanged.

Four years ago on Super Tuesday, George Bush was endorsing John MCain. No-one has been anointed tonight.

Mitt Romney has inched ahead. On paper, looking at the mathematics, he is obviously the winner.

If you dropped in on this race cold, if you hadn't been following the twists and turns, you would be puzzled that anyone would question that.

But the point is he's failed to seal the deal. He has the best organisation and the most money but can't deliver a knockout blow to his rivals.

It is they who evoke passion among the people who are voting.

Rick Santorum has established himself as the main "anti-Mitt".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Rick Santorum has has to pull off some exceptional coups in the next few primaries

But he would have to pull off some exceptional coups in the next few primaries to convince people that he can win, that he can be the Republican candidate, rather than just the main repository for conservative protest votes.

Of course, Newt Gingrich would say that he's the one who is going to stun observers, and win in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

He has put himself back in the race by winning Georgia: he gets secret service protection from today, the US Government's seal of seriousness on a candidate.

He declared, "There are a lot of bunny rabbits to run through; I am the tortoise." He says the elite, the media, the establishment, the forces of Wall Street (Mitt Romney) wanted to kill him off but have failed.

It's bold talk, but he only won one state out of 10, and that was his home state. His results were unimpressive elsewhere.

Ron Paul is in a different category. He is at this stage fighting for his philosophy rather than to become president.

He took large chunks of the vote in many states and will stay in the race.

So they all battle on. Only a string of defeats for Romney seriously changes the arc of this story.

After Super Tuesday, the conviction of most commentators will be strengthened that he will in the end win: he will be the Republican candidate in the autumn to take on Barack Obama.

But when in his speech Romney talked of going "step by step, door by door", it felt like it came from the heart.

It must feel like he is crawling across an endless plain on broken glass, the mirage of eventual victory shimmering ever in the distance.

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