Politics & Policy

Sober Fat Tuesday

State of uncertainty.

Boston, Mass. — I came here on Super Tuesday expecting a possible funeral.

I wasn’t the only one.

Gathered in a ballroom deep into the Boston convention center, Romney supporters were subdued — but not bitter or angry. They worried that the former governor here had not yet “connected”; they had been watching the same TV punditry you and I had, and so they had a sense they could be in for a disastrous night.

But by the time the ballroom cleared, Mitt Romney had been able to turn the crowd’s spirits around.

He told the packed ballroom, “Ann came to me and she said, ‘You know, the one thing that’s clear tonight is that nothing’s clear.’ But I think she’s wrong. One thing that’s clear is this campaign’s going on. I think there are some people who thought it was all going to be done tonight. But it’s not all done tonight. We’re going to keep on battling. We’re going to go all the way to the convention. We’re going to win this thing, and we’re going to get to the White House.”

Mrs. Romney, for her part, exuded an honest pride and confidence in a husband who’s run a good campaign — a campaign he can be proud of. The crowd loved both — and all the other Romneys who joined them on the stage.

On TV, you didn’t see Romney’s energy, as he jumped from the stage to work the crowd. Nor, watching on TV, did you get a sense of the palpable lack of blame and recrimination in that room. This primary season has gotten really ugly — but, as I circulated, I couldn’t hear any booing or swearing when a state was announced for McCain or Huckabee (or Clinton or Obama, for that matter).

John McCain’s victory speech from Arizona, given long after the crowd dissipated, was gracious to Romney and his supporters. That was smart, and appropriate: These are good people, supporting a candidate who is running a positive campaign. (His negative ads have been on policy, which is as it should be.) If it comes to it — he’ll want these people as his own.

Will Mitt Romney really carry on? California – the results came in after his rallying speech — was a blow. But he also had some solid wins on Super Tuesday. The most honest observation, heard again and again in the ballroom before that news came in, echoed Ann Romney’s sentiment, Well I don’t know what to think. That’s been this whole election process so far — pundits and polling not always holding up.

As I write, Governor Romney is expected to speak to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday — as will John McCain — in Washington, D.C. Having won seven states Tuesday, I expect he will go through with the speech. Romney may give his final pitch for why he is the standard-bearer of conservatism in the race on Thursday. It would be a good statement for Republicans to hear — this man they’ve only just started to get to know telling them why and how he is one of them, and the direction in which he wants to lead them. And it would be a good last pitch to make, if it winds up being that. If it doesn’t turn the race around, it would be the right message to go out with. The message would be good for the party, and for Mitt Romney and any political future he may consider.

Earlier in the day, Hillary Clinton referred to Super Tuesday as “Election Day,” as if all would be decided. But who knew Obama’s Kennedy love wouldn’t do it for him here in Massachusetts? Who knew Romney would win Minnesota, home of McCainiac governor Tim Pawlenty? Who knew Huckabee would have such a good night? Things may be getting clearer — but everyone took some losses.

On Tuesday night, Mitt Romney said the campaign is not over. Yes, they’ll count delegates, look at the states to come beyond next week, and go from there. The people working on this campaign are savvy business types (the candidate, above all), committed conservatives, and people who love their country. If it makes sense to step aside, they will. Until then, though, there’s a campaign to run. He’s taken it this far — going from a virtual unknown to a frontrunner. From the Romney vantage point: Why give up now if the fight is about America’s future? And so, for the moment, it continues.

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