David Horsey/Los Angeles Times
Tuesday night in the Illinois primary, Mitt Romney won his most convincing victory so far and demonstrated, once again, the power of money in politics.
Romney's critics have carped that he has had to buy his wins; that the endless stream of negative TV ads he has been able to put up have made it an unfair contest. One of Romney's spinners had a pretty good answer to that: It's like a losing basketball team complaining how unfair it is that the guys on the other side are too tall.
In the end, money almost always wins in politics. In 2008, Barack Obama had charisma and hope working for him, but he also had a stunningly successful fund-raising operation that beat out Hillary Rodham Clinton and outpaced John McCain. This time around, the Romney "super PAC's" flood of dollars has covered the gaps in their candidate's cool factor. It sure worked in Illinois.
Illinois was a good test for the Republican field. It isn't anyone's home state. It isn't a deep-red Southern state. It is a big state with a diverse population that looks a lot like the country as a whole. Rick Santorum gave it his best shot, finally getting a vitrtual two-man match-up, since Newt Gingrich did not compete and Ron Paul has faded to an afterthought. And Romney hammered Santorum with his money machine.
I could easily be wrong, but it feels as if a corner has been turned. Gingrich is finished, even if he remains a candidate. Santorum has had some excellent chances to upset Romney in both Michigan and Illinois, yet has not been able to pull it off. His inability to resist preaching his social gospel may be suppressing his appeal among those more worried about jobs and the deficit than birth control and our "Muslim" president.
The big question that remains at this halfway point in the primary season is whether Romney can win the nomination outright once every state has had its say. All the chatter about a brokered convention may just be the wishful thinking of Santorum fans and political reporters hoping for something interesting to do when they head to Tampa, Fla., for the GOP gathering at the end of the summer. Still, poll tracking done by Real Clear Politics indicates the support for each of the candidates is firming up. If so, that means the delegate split will continue, making it harder for Romney to pull away and win it all by June.
If I had to bet, though, I'd put my money on the guy with the money.