Romney Sweeps Primaries In Wis., Md., D.C.

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Audie Cornish talks to NPR's Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving about Tuesday's primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And an update on the Republican presidential primary. It's a clean sweep tonight, as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has won primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Tonight's defeat dealt a blow to Romney's rival, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Santorum spoke to his supporters earlier this hour in Mars, Pennsylvania.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

RICK SANTORUM: And so I ask you over the next three weeks - this isn't halftime, no marching bands, we're hitting the field. The clock starts tonight. We've got three weeks to go out here in Pennsylvania and win this state. And after wining this state, the field looks a little different in May.

CORNISH: I'm joined now by NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, what do we know about the outcome in Wisconsin?

RON ELVING, BYLINE: It looks like high-single digits, something like low 40s to mid 30s. Votes still coming in. But according to the exit polls that are widely published at this hour, it appears that Mitt Romney will have something between 40, 45 percent. His vote is very well-distributed, and it looks pretty safe to call it for Mitt Romney.

CORNISH: And do we have any sense about the people who voted for Mitt Romney there?

ELVING: Yes. He seems to have done pretty well across all age groups, although better among older voters. He seems to have done fairly well across all education groups. That also is a little bit unusual for the results in previous states. He seems to have done well primarily in the cities and the suburbs as we expected. Whereas the more rural communities, smaller towns and cities were going for Santorum.

CORNISH: And in that clip of Santorum's speech, he talked about the field looking different, and he talked about May. But, really, what's next on the calendar?

ELVING: Getting to May is the problem for Rick Santorum. We have no events for the next three weeks. Very hard to bounce back after a trifecta loss like this when he can't go into another state in the next Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday dynamic and suddenly look like a winner again. He's going to have to endure three weeks in which his fundraising can't possibly match Romney's that hasn't ever and in which he's going to be getting a tremendous amount of pressure to drop out.

But let's assume that he sticks for the moment. Let's assume he runs in Pennsylvania, his home state, on April 24th, and let's say he wins there. He could still find himself with only about half the delegates, so he doesn't gain any ground on Mitt Romney, who has a two-to-one lead in delegates overall nationally. He's also going to be up against New York state where he doesn't have much of a presence. Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island, all likely to be big wins for Mitt Romney.

So April 24th could be kind of a wash for him in Pennsylvania's home state, and he could still get crushed in the overall delegate count for that night and he's still not to May yet.

CORNISH: And let's talk about the options for these candidates. We can talk a little bit about the math, but sort of where are they in terms of where they can really go from this point on?

ELVING: Well, Mitt Romney just merely needs to go on collecting about half the delegates in all the remaining events and with a little less than half of all the delegates left available. All he really needs to do is stay on the ballot in all these remaining events and keep doing fairly well. He'll probably do better than fairly well. He'll probably do comparable to what he did tonight.

So it's just a matter of an ever-lengthening lead for Mitt Romney. On the Rick Santorum side, he needs some kind of miracle for this thing to turn around, and he needs, by far, the lion's share of everything hereafter, which is almost mathematically impossible for him, even if he can survive to the big event in Texas at the end of May and then the first June primary day on Tuesday, June 5th, when he might be able to make some sort of a showing. But he's up against California, and again in all likelihood, a big Romney win there. So...

CORNISH: And what does this do for perception? I mean, at what point do we start to look at Governor Romney as the winner and not, you know, last man standing?

ELVING: I expect many establishment figures, even in the state of Pennsylvania, are going to begin to look at him that way tonight. And they're going to start saying to Rick Santorum: Let's negotiate something whereby you get something out of all these - maybe a featured position at the convention, maybe some sort of mention on the short list for vice president - but you begin to fold your tent. If you can't win, you're just doing the party harm by staying in the hunt.

CORNISH: NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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