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The Romney train

Mar 21, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

A wiseguy known to the newspaper office sometimes recites the following, claiming it as his personal motto:

"Everything will be fine ... unless something bad happens."

This now also could be the political motto of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who won the Illinois Republican presidential primary Tuesday night and, in the process, gave the candidacy of challenger Rick Santorum a swift kick in the shins (or other part of the body, depending on one's anatomical jargon preference).

Check the primary record this year, and Romney has made the big play, so to speak, virtually very time he has had to make the big play, so to speak, he has done it.

Santorum has won most of the states where he was expected to win, and Romney has won most of the states where he was expected to win. Newt Gingrich has done the same in a couple of states, for what it's worth.

But in all the too-close-to-call states, where the outcome was in doubt, where the breakthrough by Santorum supposedly would have been huge, it's been Romney time and time again. Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and Washington all were tight, but Romney took every one.

The same thing happened Tuesday in Illinois. Over the weekend, all the national news coverage referred to "a slight edge" for Romney going in. But coming out, it was Romney by a near landslide.

Further adding to Romney's advantage has been his success in winner-take-all primary states, where all the convention delegates were awarded to the first-place finisher. Romney's wealthy, experienced campaign recognized those states early and poured the bucks and the organizational power into them. So while Santorum has won just about as many primaries or caucuses as Romney, his have tended to be in the apportioned states, where even the losers still get some delegates.

Finally, Romney has been able to dominate in areas not normally viewed as valuable in a primary season. He's won the primaries in American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, for example. He had the money to fly overseas to these U.S. territories and campaign personally. Santorum struggled to keep pace, and the delegates were added to Romney's column.

Everything looks like it's going to be OK for Romney now. But remember the motto. Something bad still could happen.

Like what? That's the wild card question. An egregious stumble in a campaign speech that offends the wrong person or people. Revelation of some impropriety in his past business or governmental practices. A last-minute smear from a disaffected worker or friend. An accident or illness. A screw-up by someone in his family.

There's no evidence of any of things with Romney, who, aside from some rich-man business practices that rub some people the wrong way, has the squeakiest of clean reputations. These possibilities are mentioned here only because 1) they have occurred in other presidential campaigns and 2) because these are the kind of drastic happenings that would have to occur for Romney to be stopped at this point.

There is still talk about procedural challenges at the convention, or a change of heart by some of his delegates, but those are little more than pipe dreams from the likes of Santorum and Gingrich, who were hoping for the tide to turn. It has, but not for them. The trend is steadily toward Romney, not away from him. If anything is going to derail the Mitt nomination train from here on, it's got to be something huge.

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