Mitt Romney got to sleep in his own bed and will have a rare day off today, and those are both good things because the Super Tuesday election results failed to change the dynamic of the Republican presidential nominating contest.
While Romney won the most states - including prized Ohio - and claimed the most delegates on the day, his neck-and-neck race with Rick Santorum in the Buckeye State has only emboldened the former Pennsylvania senator.
Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich saw redemption in winning his former home state of Georgia despite losing everywhere else - including the fellow Southern state of Tennessee. Fresh with a new Secret Service detail today, he plans to forge ahead with the belief he will fare better in upcoming contests in Mississippi and Alabama.
And Ron Paul - who still hasn’t won one presidential primary or caucus in the 2012 cycle - also vowed to soldier on, not in a quest for the GOP nomination, apparently, but in defense of liberty and the Constitution.
So where does that leave the race?
Most likely in the one-on-one showdown between Romney and Santorum that the former Pennsylvania senator has desperately sought and the former Massachusetts governor was anxious to avoid.
The immediate electoral terrain is not particularly favorable to Romney, with contests in the South and Midwest. The calendar also doesn’t offer another big ticket day until April 24, when there is voting in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island - some places where Romney could do well.
Going forward, Romney must continue doing what he has been doing: counting on his superior organization and financing to outlast his three remaining nomination rivals.
He paid cursory compliments to Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul during his victory speech Tuesday night, but he retained his focus on his would-be Democratic opponent, President Obama.
His unstated message is that he is the only one with the bearing, temperament, and skillset to not wilt on the presidential stage.
“We’ve seen enough of this president over the last three years to know that we don’t need another five years of this president,” Romney told a cheering crowd at the Westin Copley Place Hotel. “This president’s run out of ideas, he’s run out of excuses, and in 2012, we’re going to get him out of the White House.”
Adding a new line to his stump speech, Romney said Obama favors “command” over “consensus,” adding, “In a second term, he’d be unrestrained by the demands of reelection, and if there’s one thing we can’t afford, it’s four years of Barack Obama with no one to answer to.”
Hugging his grandchildren and speaking before a hometown crowd seemed to energize Romney, who has clearly been beaten down by more than two straight months on the stump.
The former governor told his onetime constituents, “I’m not going to let you down; I’m going to get this nomination.”
Santorum would beg to differ.
He failed to qualify for the ballot in Virginia, which Romney won, and he did not submit the requisite delegate slates in Ohio, ensuring Romney would take away more delegates even before the voting started.
But he took clear-cut victories in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota as testimony to his blue-collar, strongly conservative message. He underscored it by delivering his own remarks in a high school gym in Steubenville, Ohio, accompanied by his wife, children, 93-year-old mother, and elderly in-laws.
Lauding those latter members of the Greatest Generation, Santorum said: “It’s a different battle that we’re engaged in today, but it’s no less a battle for the basic liberties that this country was founded on.”
Striking on Orwellian tone, he blasted “elites” in Washington who overspend and said, “This is the beginning of the end of freedom in America. Once the government has control of your life, then they gotcha.”
He cited Obama’s health care overhaul as a prime example of government intrusion in private life and the private sector, and he argued Romney can’t challenge Obama on that front because the universal health care law he signed in Massachusetts served as the template for the federal plan.
“In this race, there is only one candidate who can go up, on the most important issue of the day, and make the case,” said the former senator.
Santorum spoke with an emotion that Romney lacks and with a hominess that escapes Gingrich. As he delivered his speech, one of his young sons yawned next to him, offering a human touch.
Gingrich, by contrast, used the breadth of his remarks not to discuss some major campaign theme or to critique his opponents, but to lash out at the media and political establishment for writing off his candidacy.
He said his Georgia win validated his continued campaign for the nomination.
“You know, this is amazing,” said Gingrich. “I hope the analysts in Washington and New York, who spent June and July explaining our campaign was dead, will watch this tonight and learn a little bit from this crowd and from this place.”
He said he has repelled all challengers for the conservative mantle, from Tim Pawlenty to Michele Bachmann to Herman Cain and Rick Perry. He said he will do the same with Santorum.
“There’s a lot of bunny rabbits that run through,” said the former speaker. “I’m the tortoise. I just take it one step at a time.”
Paul similarly showed that his candidacy is no longer connected to any realistic prospect of winning the nomination.
True, the Texas congressman had his best performance yet, winning over 40 percent of the vote in Virginia. But he did not win any of the 10 Super Tuesday states.
Nonetheless, he told a crowd at the North Dakota caucuses that he would continue to lobby for his libertarian agenda.
“If you look at the candidates today, there is very little difference - except for one,” said Paul. “I believe it is the offering up of the program that emphasizes personal liberty, the Constitution, sound monetary policy, and a sensible foreign policy is the reason the momentum is building and the reason why we’re getting such a great reception here in North Dakota.”
Perhaps the most unsettling development of the night, from the Romney perspective, came via television from Wasilla, Alaska.
Sarah Palin, in an impromptu and devilish interview with CNN, would not rule out a presidential bid in 2016 - or a bid for the 2012 nomination if there is a brokered convention this summer.
“Anything in this life, in this world, is possible,” the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee said after participating in her local caucus.
Palin noted she would be at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
“I don’t close any doors that perhaps would be open out there, so, no, I wouldn’t close that door,” she said.
The reality is that a brokered convention is still unlikely.
But with such a split verdict on Super Tuesday, Romney failed to change the narrative of the nominating race and thus quell such speculation.
Glen Johnson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.