Update and commentary on the Republican presidential primary:
Early on this Super Tuesday primary night, Rick Santorum appears to be headed for what he can legitimately claim is a two-person race for Republican nomination. With early returns in, it appears he’ll win Oklahoma and Tennessee, with a good chance for a victory in North Dakota, and perhaps a narrow win in Ohio, which would be huge.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney will sweep his home state of Massachusetts as expected with 72 percent of the vote; Vermont with 41 percent of the vote; and Virginia with 59 percent of the vote. But there are early concerns for Romney: in liberal Vermont, Romney needed 50 percent of the vote to sweep the entire slate; because he didn’t get it (with 55 percent of the returns already tabulated), the delegates will be split. Santorum received 23 percent of the vote and Libertarian Ron Paul is polling 25 percent, while Newt Gingrich has 8 percent. And in Virginia, Romney only competed against Ron Paul, as tight primary election rules there kept Santorum and Gingrich out of the race.
From a media perspective, Santorum’s victories are more impressive because he is still perceived as the undergone in the primary fight, and if battling two other conservatives in each of the contests. With 39 percent of the votes counted as of 10 p.m., he’s leading 39 percent to 36 percent in North Dakota; and 39 percent to 36 percent in Ohio. With 78 percent of the vote counted in Oklahoma, he’s leading 34 percent to 27 percent for Romney and Gingrich, and 10 percent for Paul. In Tennesee, with 64 percent of the vote counted, Santorum leads with 38 percent, with Romney at 28 percent; Gingrich, 23 percent; and Paul 9 percent.
Newt Gingrich, as expected, takes his home state of Georgia with 48 percent, with 78 percent of the votes counted. Romney (25 percent), Santorum (20 percent); Paul polled 6 percent.
In Wyoming, with just 4 percent of the votes counted, Romney leads 51 percent with Santorum close with 49 percent.
The upshot, so far this Tuesday, is that Romney is struggling to inspire those not already firmly in his camp. To win Mass and Vermont is preaching to the choir. To win Virginia, 59 to 41 against Libertarian Paul… is no huge endorsement. And if he fails to win any other race tonight, or just squeak by in Wyoming, it certainly is far from clinching the deal.