Gingrich concedes to Romney, will suspend his campaign next Tuesday

Update: Fox News is reporting that Newt Gingrich has conceded the presidential nomination to Mitt Romney, and will formally supsend his campaign next Tuesday.  It is said he will “more than likely” offer an endorsement of Mitt Romney at that time.

There wasn’t much doubt that Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee for President before he swept the five primaries held on Tuesday night.  Since even Newt Gingrich’s desperate bid for a close race in Delaware turned into a 30-point Romney rout, it’s hard to look at the road ahead for Romney and see anything worse than a few shallow potholes.

Fourteen states primaries remain, accounting for a total of 763 delegates, most of them allocated proportionally.  Romney averaged about 60 percent of the vote on Tuesday night, so if that percentage held, he’d win over 450 of the remaining delegates – more than enough to put him past the 1,144 he needs to secure the nomination.

The process for allocating delegates in these proportional states is generally a bit more complicated than that, but there’s every reason to think Romney might do even better in district-by-district battles from this point forward, especially if Gingrich drops out of the race.  Romney’s fundraising is also likely to improve now that he’s so close to wrapping up the nomination, giving him plenty of resources to fight anywhere he still has trouble.

The May primaries feature some of the Southern states where Romney has not performed as well, culminating in Texas on May 29, with 155 delegates at stake.  Texas had been flirting with the idea of changing its contest to “winner take all,” back when Rick Santorum was polling extremely well there, and the prospect of a 155-delegate jackpot could have been a game-changer.  It is thought that Santorum’s decision to suspend his campaign was based, in part, on his conclusion that this effort would not succeed, and Texas would remain a proportional primary.  Romney now leads in Texas by 7 to 10 points, according to the latest round of polls.

Gingrich has said that even if he ultimately drops out of the race, he still plans to campaign in North Carolina, whose May 8 primary is worth 55 delegates.  In a Tuesday night rally in Concord, he acknowledged that it was time to “look realistically at where we’re at,” but insisted he was “determined to go all the way to Tampa.”  He also emphasized the importance of the upcoming presidential election, and said that if Romney is the nominee, “I think every conservative in this country has to be committed to defeating Barack Obama.”

The principal question for the remains of the primary is how much effort Romney will be obliged to invest in ensuring he wins the delegates he needs.  The psychology of ratifying the nearly certain nominee will work ever more strongly in his favor – it’s one thing to get voters excited about an insurgent campaign, but quite another to persuade them to cast symbolic votes that will mostly serve to weaken the party’s candidate in the general election, and fuel a few last “weak frontrunner” stories in the media.  His comments in Concord indicate Newt Gingrich is well aware of this.

The real story from the past few weeks is how strong the opening of Romney’s general election campaign has been.  It’s far too early to draw conclusions about the full shape of the race to come, and much of Romney’s good fortune has stemmed from astonishing blunders by the Obama team… but when terrified Democrat strategists are wondering if they might have lost the huge advantage among women they require, and the President is desperately campaigning to shore up the youth vote, you’re looking at a pretty good Romney launch. 

The past few weeks have demonstrated an encouraging combination of aggressive campaigning, rapid response, and positive energy from the Romney camp.  His victory speech on Tuesday – “Hold on a little longer, a better America begins tonight” – was an excellent fusion of optimism and tough criticism for the incumbent.  The crucible of this extended primary, filled with countless debates and turgid proportional primary contests, was supposed to forge a better nominee.  Perhaps it succeeded.