What Happened Mitt?

Mitt Romney’s results in Tuesday’s primaries and caucuses were frustrating for many conservatives. John McCain was expected to compete with Romney for first place in the Super Tuesday states, yet it was Mike Huckabee who pulled in the second and first place wins, leaving Romney in third several times early in the evening and John McCain as the clear front runner.

Conservatives started to worry for Romney when Huckabee took West Virginia in their state primary convention yesterday afternoon. West Virginia offered 18 delegates in which the Romney campaign was sure they would win. In an interview with the New York Times John McCutcheon, a state consultant for Romney said, “We have had the only organizational presence in West Virginia to speak of…It’s all Romney all the time.”

Huckabee’s win in West Virginia was evidence again of his influence over evangelical voters – and his day-long partnership with John McCain who threw his support behind Huckabee to block a Romney win. Exit polls also revealed that many West Virginians voted based on “personal qualities.” Huckabee took 53% of this category discounting Romney’s organizational gains.

And so it went for the rest of the evening in the South, Huckabee took Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and his home state of Arkansas. All Southern states where his win can be attributed to religious voters.

Huckabee’s comeback was a surprise but it’s important to detail that the states he won would not have gone to Romney. Romney came in third in every state that Huckabee won except for West Virginia. Many frustrated conservative bloggers and pundits have penned that Huckabee was playing wingman to McCain and taming any threat that Romney could pose. Aside from West Virginia this is demonstrably not true exit polling in the states that Huckabee took show that McCain (who came in second in these states) could have had an even larger sweep if Huckabee was out of the picture.

Romney did win Massachusetts, and then the mountain states, Minnesota, Colorado, North Dakota, Montana, and Utah. Romney won Maine as well just last weekend. What was made clear last night is that Romney cannot win the South and many have questioned if a candidate can win the nomination without a presence there?

Texas — George W. Bush’s home state– is still up for the taking on March 4 with 140 delegates. Polls from Texas now show McCain and Romney head to head and Huckabee lagging 10 percentage points behind the two in this southern state. Do Texans still approve of G.W.? Exit polls indicate that anti-Bush Republicans are voting for McCain, perhaps this is where Romney can look for an edge.

Romney has lost in New England but has a chance still to win Virginia and Maryland. The big losses for Romney last night were New York and California — although he can still pick up some delegates in California becuase the state is not winner take all. Romney has said he won’t concede, he will speak again tomorrow at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and hope to make news by winning the conference’s straw poll. (Romney won CPAC straw poll last year).

The most recent delegate count from last night is very encouraging for McCain and worrisome for Romney with Huckabee gaining quickly but it’s not over.

John McCain – 618

Romney – 268

Huckabee – 169

Many worry that Conservatives rallied around Romney too late, they say Romney needs a new path, “Where can he win?” asked Bill Kristol on FOX News “Saying I’m the real conservative doesn’t help if you cant win.”

If we have learned anything in this election season perhaps it’s that America’s voters aren’t looking for a real conservative — or at least can’t see one.