In our NCSU forum on the Republican primaries the other day, I had a bit of a disagreement with another participant (a Communications professor– what do they know about politics) about whether the race was over or not. He argued that it still has a long way to go due to the delegate count. The delegate count matters as far as you can throw a delegate. Anyway, I said the race would be over when A) the media stopped caring and basically had two minute segments along the lines of “Romney, as expected, won XX primary” and B) Sheldon Adelson decided that Newt Gingrich was no longer wasting his millions on (even though it is pocket change to him). How nice to see TNR’s Noam Scheiber share pretty much the same sentiments:
Here’s why Adelson matters even at this late date: Newt is still popular enough with conservatives, and Romney still sufficiently unloved, that another $5 or $10 million haul would create more than a minor annoyance for the ostensible frontrunner in the coming months, a time when Romney would like to be training his fire on Barack Obama. Even amid his general evisceration in Florida, Newt still beat Romney handily among the Republican voters who consider themselves “very conservative” (42 percent to 30 for Romney) and strong Tea Party supporters (45 percent to 33), both of which accounted for about one-third of the electorate. The combination of that rump of support and the Adelson money could produce several victories for Gingrich on Super Tuesday alone, when voters in Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee all go to the polls.
Without the Adelson money, on the other hand, the primary campaign goes poof. As former television executive (and George W. Bush cousin) John Ellis explained onBuzzfeed, the major media outlets have already spent more than they intended to on primary coverage. After Florida, all the embeds and bloggers who provide 24-hour “man-to-man” coverage will be summoned back to their respective mother ships and redeployed into cubicles. The era of so-called free media has abruptly come to an end, at least to any candidate not named Romney. “On the day after the South Carolina primary, [Gingrich] had two busloads of reporters, bloggers and electronic media types following his every word,” Ellis wrote. “Tomorrow, he won’t need two buses. He’ll be lucky if the seats are filled on one.”
When the media are convinced the race is done, it’s done. There’s no comebacks without all the free media helping to build momentum. Accumulated delegates have nothing to do with that. This is especially true as the media would much prefer an actual contest, as it is a much more interesting story for them to report. And, as the only other substantial source of money not going to Romney in this race is Adelson, it’s hard to see how the race continues if he stops backing Newt. Scheiber thinks this will be now. I suspect that there may still be some interesting stories and maybe even surprises– and these two factors are not definitive yet. But when they are, that’s it, regardless of the other stuff.