Fred Barnes is the executive editor of The Weekly Standard.
Mitt Romney didn't achieve the knockout punch he wanted on Super Tuesday, but winning five of the 10 contests was no small feat. With his haul of delegates, he continued his march to the Republican presidential nomination.
No doubt the mainstream media, which dislikes Romney and treats him as an undeserving frontrunner, will play up Rick Santorum as a stronger than ever challenger to Romney. Indeed, after winning in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota, Santorum sent out an email saying, "We Won."
Not really. But Santorum's stronger than expected showing yesterday underlines what we already knew: Romney is a weak frontrunner. Nonetheless, Romney managed to do four things that mattered yesterday.
1) He won Ohio. Santorum's lead in the polls was in double digits only a week or so ago. Romney was able to overcome it, just as he had two weeks ago in Michigan. Once again, he outmatched Santorum in money and organization and also in the ability to do better among working class white voters than predicted.
2) He got by far the biggest share of delegates. With only Ron Paul against him on the ballot, Romney won most of the delegates in Virginia. And he won more delegates in Ohio than his narrow popular victory might have required because Santorum failed to file delegate slates in a number of districts.
3) Both Newt Gingrich, who won in his home state of Georgia, and Santorum are still in the race. Each would like the other to drop out and allow him to go one-on-one against Romney. That won't happen, at least not yet. So the two will continue to divide the non-Romney vote, along with Ron Paul, improving Romney's chances of coming in first in primaries.
4) Romney finished second in two states he failed to win, Tennessee and Oklahoma. This helped to pad his advantage in delegates.
Romney fell one state short of the blowout his campaign had hoped for. Had he won Tennessee along with Ohio, it would have dealt a devastating blow to his opponents, leaving them without a credible scenario for winning the nomination. Next to Ohio, Tennessee was the most important battleground on Super Tuesday.
And Romney got little credit, except in delegates, for winning the Virginia, Vermont, and Massachusetts primaries and the Idaho caucuses. These were regarded as gimmies for Romney. He won them handsomely, unusual for such a rocky campaign. But the press largely ignored these contests.
Trouble may lie ahead in the next week for Romney. On Saturday, the Kansas caucuses give Santorum a solid shot at winning another state and the bulk of its delegates. Santorum's former Senate colleague Sam Brownback is governor. Next Tuesday, Alabama and Mississippi have primaries in which Gingrich and Santorum are strong competitors.
So Romney's bid for the GOP nomination will continue to be a struggle. Republican voters appear to have qualms about crowning him at this point. But with every primary and a few caucuses he moves closer to claiming the nomination.