This morning you were going to read a post from me saying Mitt Romney was definitely now the nominee and it was time for Santorum and Gingrich to drop out. The post was predicated on late polling and early corresponding exit polling from yesterday showing that Mitt Romney won Mississippi. He had finally won in the south.But the early exits changed with the late exits. The late polling was wrong. Happily I could delete my post. Not only did Mitt Romney not win either Alabama or Mississippi, but he is, as you wake up, coming in third in both. The polls were wrong.Yesterday, Mitt Romney went on CNN and told Wolf Blitzer that Rick Santorum’s campaign was coming to a “desperate end.” That seems more apt this morning to Romney’s southern campaign. Given his poor showing, it’s understandable if you expect Newt Gingrich to call on Romney to get out.There is a lot to review in this biggest story of the day. But the start should be a simple question: does Mitt Romney need more debates?
The Romney camp signaled it was tired of the debates. But in the Florida debates the Romney camp largely destroyed Gingrich before winning Florida. In the Mesa, AZ debate on CNN the Romney camp ruined Rick Santorum before winning Arizona and barely Michigan.Both times the Romney campaign used good debate performances to rebound lagging poll numbers into real momentum. Then he decided to stop debating. Out of sight and out of mind, conservatives forgot why they thought he was the guy who could beat Obama.Does he need to get back to debating?The most striking thing about last night's elections is that none of the candidates can close the deal. In effect, there was a three way tie, though it worked to Romney’s disadvantage.Newt Gingrich last night proved he is neither a regional candidate nor a spoiler. His influence is headed into Ron Paul territory. Gingrich could not win the deep south. He won Georgia and South Carolina. A Catholic yankee from Pennsylvania won Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and will probably win Louisiana. Even with Gingrich in the race, Santorum beat Romney. He was no spoiler. Gingrich’s final act could be king maker by getting out and endorsing, but pride cometh before the fall. Gingrich is in mid fall. What a sad end to a brilliant legacy. But his campaign is over. All we need is Haley Joel Osment and M. Night Shyamalan to point out to him he is dead.Santorum won the states. It was a huge victory. But even he is not closing the deal. The striking thing about the exits, which over all captured the race fairly well, is that Santorum’s voters made up their mind in the last few weeks. In other words, Santorum’s voters made up their minds as Romney was winning Arizona, Michigan, and Ohio. Santorum’s vote is not about Santorum so much as it is about stopping Romney. He needs to bring those voters fully on board and give them a reason to vote for Santorum. He is on the verge of doing so.Were I Mitt Romney I’d be firing staff. It’s almost like God himself is toying with Romney. Maybe it is because the Romney camp says it would take an Act of God for Santorum or Gingrich to win. God seems like he wants to make it happen.I don’t think I have seen any political team mishandle and bungle expectations as badly as Team Romney. Every time they let expectations get out of hand they lose. They did it in Iowa. They did it in South Carolina. They did it in Tennessee. They did it in Mississippi. Hell, they did it in Michigan where Romney did win, but by less than three percent.No doubt buoyed by exit polling yesterday, the Romney campaign made sure everyone knew they could seriously win Mississippi. By 8pm, Eric Fehrnstrom was on CNN telling Anderson Cooper that no one really thought Romney would win Alabama or Mississippi. I couldn’t help but laugh in the background.In five years of campaigning it is stunning to me that the Romney camp still has no clue how to play the expectations game. It is increasingly clear it is not a well run campaign, Mitt Romney is not a good campaigner, but he will still, more likely than not, be the GOP nominee. While all eyes were focused on Alabama and Mississippi, Romney was doing quite well in Hawaii and American Samoa.Like sterile accountants counting pennies, the Romney camp keeps counting delegates. That can get them to a win, but it will be an uninspiring win. There is little enthusiasm for Romney with the base. In heavily Republican Madison County, MS, voter turn out barely topped 7,000 voters. In 2008, when the GOP contest was done and everyone knew McCain would be the nominee, 10,500 people still turned out to vote for McCain. Yes, more Republicans turned out to vote McCain in 2008 than Romney in 2012. That's a problem. That's a lack of enthusiasm.The problem is two fold now. The base doesn’t like Romney, but the base doesn’t really like the other options either. At the same time, the base does not want this primary to end.The roller coaster continues. The one sure thing out of this is that, though Romney is not becoming a better candidate as the primaries continue, Rick Santorum sure is. As for Newt? He is becoming less relevant.It is time for Newt Gingrich to exit. It is time for Santorum v. Romney and let the chips fall where they may. I still think Romney is the nominee. But I think Santorum vs. Romney one on one gives Romney a run for his money he needs to become a candidate conservatives can potentially rally around.