So Florida has come and gone, and so has Nevada. And Mitt Romney is riding high, with a slew of favourable (Mid-)Western states set to follow.
Has he won?
In all likelihood, yes. He won when he wrapped up Florida with 46% of the vote, leaving Gingrich (32%) and poor old Santorum (13%) trailing in his wake.
I would imagine that, when we look back at the 2012 primary season, it will be Florida that is mentioned time and time again. This is were the race was decided.
Decided, perhaps, but not wrapped up. After all, look at Nevada.
It's true, the Nevada results were touted as a huge success for Romney by just about all the pundits. He got a whopping 50% of the vote, what more could you possibly want?
Except that it wasn't all that impressive, really. Back in 2008, Romney didn't get 50%. He got 51%. A marginal difference, perhaps, but still: it's Iowa all over again. What seems a victory at first glance isn't anything to get excited about; not when you look a little more closely. Besides, the turnout in Nevada was down by a not inconsiderable 25% compared to 2008.
As such, Nevada was assuredly a solid victory for Romney, but it also underscored the man's basic weakness. He was and still is the Whirr/Clack Mechanism, and let's face it, he's just not loved. There is a surprising, perhaps even rather confusing, emptiness to the man: you can't help but feel that, if you take away the robust exterior, you'll find that there's nothing inside.
Later today, Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri will all have their say. For various reasons, none of these states will make a huge impact in the long run. For one thing, the caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota will be non-binding, whilst the primary in Missouri will be even less significant, since the delegates there will actually be allocated on the basis of a caucus to be held on March 17th. And Newt Gingrich isn't even on the ballot in Missouri (which is why Rick Santorum has been campaigning there quite rigorously).
Saying that the caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota are non-binding does not, however, mean that they are unimportant. The situation in these two states is roughly comparable to that of Iowa: further elections will be held down the road and the delegates who'll ultimately go to the Republican Convention (and vote for the presidential candidate of their choice) will be decided then and there. However, this is the first step in the selection process. (A difference between Colorado and Minnesota is, as I understand it, that in Colorado the caucus is the first step in actually selecting the delegates, whilst in Minnesota, there is no formal link between the caucus and that selection. The Minnesotan vote is actually a sort of straw poll.)
Of the three states, it's surely Colorado that is most relevant to the delegate selection process. It will be interesting to see how well Romney does there, taking the 2008 results into account. In that year, he got no less than 60% of the vote. For what it's worth, my prediction is that he'll do less well this time round. Why? Well, all sorts of reasons, but the primary one is what I've been talking about all along. It's that Romney is, well, Romney.
It'll also be interesting to see what happens in Missouri, precisely because of the skewered nature of the contest. If Santorum wins, he'll live to fight another day; if he loses significantly, he may well drop out.