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A share-the-wealth Super Tuesday means no rest for front-runner Romney

Mitt Romney won six of 10 Super Tuesday contests, enough to retain his front-runner status. But his hair-breadth's win in Ohio was not a convincing one, and the next states to vote don't favor him.

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Romney’s victory in another important November battleground, Virginia, was diminished by the fact that the only other candidate to qualify for the ballot was Congressman Paul. Romney beat Paul by 19 percentage points, 59.5 percent to 40.5 percent – Paul’s strongest state among those holding primaries. (Romney won Idaho, which holds caucuses, with 62 percent.) But Paul’s strong performance, by far his best of the 10 March 6 contests, represented as much a desire to vote against Romney as a vote for Paul, analysts say.

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Each candidate departed Super Tuesday with a reason to stay in the race, especially with the involvement of “super political action committee” – outside groups with unlimited funds that can support candidates through advertisements. In previous cycles, candidates like Santorum and Gingrich, in particular, might have been forced out by now with limited ability to advertise across a broad cross-section of states and no debates scheduled. But their super PACs have helped keep them in the game.

Paul’s candidacy, centered on libertarian views that at times conflict with Republican orthodoxy, is different. He has the most devoted base of supporters and raises money in regular online fundraising “money bombs,” which should allow him to compete all the way to the GOP’s convention in Tampa, Fla., in late August.

In the race for delegates, Romney has the math on his side. But Santorum technically cannot be ruled out, and as long as he can raise enough money to fund his lean operation, he is likely to stay in the race. Gingrich faces an even steeper climb, but after his victory on Tuesday in Georgia and earlier win in South Carolina, he plans to keep going – especially with other Southern states poised to vote in the next month.

Thus, as much as establishment Republicans seem eager to end a nomination season that has dragged down Romney’s reputation with the general public, the competition looks poised to continue for at least six more weeks. Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi – none of them a good fit for Romney – vote next week. The calendar doesn’t return to more comfortable territory for Romney until April. Wisconsin, Maryland, and the District of Columbia vote on April 3. New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware vote on April 24.

Also voting on April 24 is Pennsylvania , Santorum’s home turf. The last time he appeared on the ballot there, for his Senate reelection bid in 2006 – a tough year for Republicans nationally – he lost by a stunning 18 points. Assuming he’s still in the presidential race by Pennsylvania’s 2012 primary, he will face a test of how well he has rehabilitated his image. 

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