Republican voters looking for clarity out of Super Tuesday instead got more of the same: a split vote that failed to once and for all give them a runaway presumptive GOP presidential candidate. And though he had a good night, Mitt Romney put a good face on a night of wins and near-wins that once again proved he can't quite close the deal with the party's conservative base.
Instead, Republicans had both the former Massachusetts governor and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum taking a handful of states each, with the vote in crucial swing state Ohio still too close to call at press time.
In that race, Santorum led most of the night, but Romney enjoyed a late surge that could change the equation. At press time, Romney was up by nearly 3,000 votes with 88 percent of precincts counted, leading Santorum 38 percent to 37. However, because the Santorum campaign failed to register for a full slate of delegates in the early, poorly funded days of what once looked like a long-shot bid, even if Santorum ends up on top in the Buckeye State, his margin of victory will be slim enough that he will almost certainly get fewer delegates out of Ohio than Romney. And there is also the possibility that it could be so slim as to trigger a recount.
The nail-biter went late into the night for the second-biggest prize in the crucial swing state, where 66 delegates were at stake. Not only is Ohio considered a pivotal state in the general election, but no Republican has made it to the White House without carrying the state in the general election.
Romney was hoping that the 10-state contest would help him finally solidify his status as the leading GOP presidential candidate. He did pull off a decisive victory in his home state of Massachusetts, as well as a win in Virginia, where his only opponent was Congressman Ron Paul.
For the night, Romney was predicted to win 17 delegates in Vermont, 46 in Virginia and 38 in Massachusetts. He also seemed poised to win Idaho, where he was polling at 78 percent at press time with less than a quarter of precincts reporting. Romney added those wins to previous victories in Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire and Maine.
"I'm not gonna let you down. ... I'm gonna get this nomination," Romney said while thanking his home-state supporters for giving him a win. "Tonight we're doing some counting. We're counting up the delegates for the convention, and it looks good. And we're counting down the days until November, and that looks even better."
In a victory he said he needed to secure in order to stay in the mix, former Georgia Congressman and House Speaker Newt Gingrich was able to pull off a big win in Georgia, the state with the day's richest prize. Though he will share the 76-delegate count with either Romney or Santorum (depending on how much of the vote they end up getting), it was likely enough of a victory to keep the Lazarus-like Gingrich in the hunt and to secure him Secret Service protection as of tomorrow. At press time, he had 47 percent of the vote to Romney's 26 and Santorum's 24.
It looked, however, to be the only bragging point for the still bluster-filled former congressman. "It's all right. There are lots of bunny rabbits that run through; I'm just the tortoise," Gingrich told his supporters in Atlanta after ticking off the gallery of opponents who have crowded him out of the picture over the past year only to fall back again as he pushed ever forward.
With 92 percent of the vote in at press time, thanks to his social-conservative bona fides, Santorum was the projected winner in Oklahoma, where he took 34 percent of the vote to Romney's 28, as well as in Tennessee, where he had a 37 percent to 28 percent advantage over Romney. He also appeared to have triumphed in North Dakota, where he held a large lead with nearly 90 percent of the vote in, besting Ron Paul by a 40 percent to 27 percent margin.
"This was a big night tonight. Lots of states — we're gonna win a few, we're gonna lose a few," an upbeat Santorum told a crowd in blue-collar Steubenville, Ohio, earlier in the night. "But as it looks right now, we're gonna get at least a couple of gold medals and a whole passel full of silver medals." With his four wins, Santorum upped his total number of W's so far to eight, including previous victories in Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.
Results from caucuses in Alaska were not available at press time.
Just before 11 p.m. ET, The New York Times predicted that Romney had picked up 112 delegates on Tuesday, with Gingrich well behind at 42, Santorum with 38 and Paul with 10. Added to their previous delegate count, that gave Romney an estimated total of 315, Santorum 130, Gingrich 75 and Paul 35.
Super Tuesday boasted a total of 419 delegates total, the biggest haul to date in the 2012 GOP race. But as gaudy as that number is, it represents about one-third of all available delegates. The winning candidate will have to roll up 1,144 to secure the nomination and face off against President Obama in November, and with the winner's circle still overstuffed, that path seems like it will continue to have a number of significant obstacles.
MTV had Super Tuesday covered, with reporters on the scene in Georgia, Ohio and Massachusetts! Stick with Power Of 12 throughout the presidential election season for more from the ground.