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Fight For GOP Nomination Is Over But Will Still Go On

As they counted up the votes on Super Tuesday, you could almost hear Celine Dion singing that theme song from Titanic — the one about how her heart and the whole tragic tale would go on.

And on.

So it is with this year's Republican presidential contest.

Usually by this time in the picture, the GOP has given its heart to its hero, and it's lights out for the rest of the cast. But once again this week, the GOP of 2012 refused to read the usual script.

The protagonist was there, to be sure. Mitt Romney won six of the 10, most by healthy margins, and when he didn't take first place he mostly took second. That means he lengthened his lead in the delegate count, which is only now beginning to get serious.

Romney also won the marquee contest of the night in Ohio, where upstart Rick Santorum had held a substantial lead in polls until last week. Overtaking Santorum in Ohio was nearly as critical a test for Romney as beating him in Michigan had been a week earlier.

So the underlying theme of the night was once again the inevitability of Romney — the man with the money and the organizational resilience to keep bouncing back up when he gets knocked down.

That theme was muted, early in the evening, when Newt Gingrich captured Georgia, the state with the most delegates to offer on the day, and Santorum opened a modest lead in Ohio. Adding insult to injury, Ron Paul took 40 percent of the vote in Virginia, where only he and Romney had qualified for the ballot.

Pretty soon people were noticing that the only other states Romney had won before midnight were his home state of Massachusetts, neighboring Vermont and distant Idaho, where much of the population is Mormon.

So once again the sense of conflict arose. When was this guy going to start smelling more like a real winner? Here on the night he was supposed to break out, he was beginning to look like he might break down.

But when he pulled out Ohio, Romney pulled out a plum. And when he added Alaska in the wee hours of the morning, he had something like the scoreboard he wanted. He had won three states that border Canada, two more on the Atlantic and one on the Great Lakes. It was going to be good enough, once again.

Next week, Alabama and Mississippi will go with their Southern neighbors and Gingrich, or they might stampede to Santorum — a Yankee Catholic with strong appeal to white evangelical Protestants. They are not likely to go for Romney. On Saturday, we also hear from Kansas, another state with a powerful social conservative core.

Thereafter, however, Romney should be able to right his ship again in Illinois on March 20, and cruise into the winner-take-all waters of the spring.

The removal of Texas from Super Tuesday, and its subsequent delay all the way to May 29, makes it harder for Romney's rivals to overtake him in delegates. At some point, those billionaires who have kept Romney rivals in the race financially may feel their patience eroding.

When they do, the final capitulation can take place. The GOP of 2012 may not love Mitt much, nor will it ever embrace him Reagan-style. But when he is their last line of defense against a second term for President Obama, he will look much better.

That day is still coming, if only because there is no alternative scenario at this point. But it will take awhile for the inevitable to act itself out.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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