Bill Whalen

GOP Spring Training Ends, Spring Break Begins

On the last day of major-league baseball’s spring training, it seemed apt that the Republicans held three low-drama presidential primaries that had the look and feel of exhibitions.

Mitt Romney cruised to easy wins in Wisconsin, Maryland and the nation’s capital (you know it’s a good night when you’re on and off the victory podium by 10 p.m. EDT).

My only quibble: Romney’s gigantic flag backdrop, which had a Bulworth style to it.

Collectively, those three contests (total of 98 delegates at stake) pushed Romney’s delegate total to nearly 650, more than halfway to the 1,144 needed for a convention win on the first ballot. Progress, inch by inch.

First, a warning about the 2012 baseball season: it may be over before it began.

On Monday night, the University of Kentucky claimed the men’s college basketball crown. The last six times the Wildcats won a national title (1998, 1996, 1978, 1958, 1951 and 1949), the New York Yankees won that fall’s World Series.

Game over?

For Romney or Obama?

The Bronx Bombers have appeared in 10 World Series that coincided with presidential elections. They’re 4-0 in years when the Republican candidate also won (1928, 1952, 1956, 2000). They’re 3-3 when the Democrat prevails (1932, 1936, 1960, 1964, 1976, 1996).

Can’t stomach the thought of another Yankees title? If you’re rooting for a Romney win this fall, then root for the St Louis Cardinals to make it to the World Series.

And lose.

“Birds on a Bat” have made it to Fall Classic in the presidential years of 1928, 1964, 1968 and 2004. The one time they won (1964), so did the Johnson-Humphrey ticket. Otherwise, the three St. Louis Series losses preceded wins for Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.

Now back to the GOP presidential race, which only seems as interminable as baseball’s 162-game schedule.

With spring training over, the GOP race now enters that other rite du printemps: spring break.

Incredibly, there’s no primary or caucus scheduled until April 24, when Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and Rhode Island all go to the polls (a combined 231 delegates).

That’s three weeks for the four remaining candidates to assess the state of the race. Here’s what they be thinking:

  1. Romney. “Are we there yet?” The frequent question asked Tuesday night: “is it over”? To paraphrase Bill Clinton, that all depends on what the definition of “it” is. If “it” is the chance of someone other than Romney getting the nomination on the first ballot then, yes, the ship has sailed. Rick Santorum, closest to Romney in the chase with only 270-or-so delegates, would need to win about 74% of the remaining 1,181 delegates to get to 1,144. The numbers are worse for Newt Gingrich (85%) and Ron Paul (92.5%). But if the definition of “it” is sticking around in the race for no better reason than holding out hope for a food fight at the national convention? Only one person can answer that. And that would be . . .
  2. Santorum. “You can’t go home again.” Assuming he doesn’t drop out of the race beforehand, for Santorum the April 24 primary in his native Pennsylvania is more than an exercise in trying to slow Romney’s march to Tampa. It’s also about saving face. With one poll showing a 30-point Santorum lead now down to only two points, Pennsylvania could trend the same as Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois – large, expensive states where Santorum was overwhelmed by Romney’s advantages in money and organization. More trouble for Santorum: another poll showing a near-majority of Pennsylvania Republicans deeming the protracted race harmful and negative. If Santorum is indeed rejected by his former constituents, it’s proof yet that Thomas Wolfe had it right.
  3. Newt Gingrich. “The South will rise again”. History shows the Confederates surrendered at Appomattox, 147 years ago next Monday. The last Confederate surrender was Nov. 9 of the same year – the CSS Shenandoah lowering its colors in Liverpool, England. In their minds, some Southerners are still fighting “The War of Northern Aggression”. Gingrich’s army in April 2012 is Lee’s Army in April 1865. He’s short on supplies; he’s looking at the prospect of future battles with a lot fewer troops. Lee was dignified in defeat, respected by his Union conquerors and issuing a farewell address to his Army of Northern Virginia that was chock full of positive words like “valor” and “devotion”. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Gingrich, who insists he’s pressing ahead to Tampa.
  4. Ron Paul. “You and I travel to the beat of a different drum”. Paul didn’t bother with Wisconsin or the other Tuesday stop; he’s already moved on to town hall events at three California university campuses later this week – California, of course, not voting for another eight weeks. The burning question coming out of Tuesday’s vote: is the arch-libertarian Paul a Hunger Games super fan? I kid, only because Paul is a non-officially a non-factor in the tick-tock of the delegate and popular-vote counts. With the exception of Louisiana (6.1%), the Texas congressman’s pulled a consistent 9.3%-12% in the last five primaries. Solid, not sensational. The good news for Paul: he has the backing of Barry James Dyke, the best-selling author of the Wall Street-critical Pirates of Manhattan. The bad news: with only 50-or-so-delegates, it’s not like the Paul contingent at Tampa is going to make Dykes’ Pirates sequel another bestseller.
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