Presidential candidate Rick Santorum had a strong showing Tuesday after winning the Alabama and Mississippi primary. But, due to the proportional allocation of delegates and two other late races, front-runner Mitt Romney had a better night than most newspaper headlines suggest.
"Santorum wins in Mississippi and Alabama," read The Washington Post's Wednesday headline. The New York Times wrote, "Santorum Takes 2 Races in South; Romney is Third." The front page of The Wall Street Journal read, "Santorum Wins Alabama, Mississippi." And, The Christian Post, similarly wrote, "'We Did It Again,' Santorum Says of Deep South Wins."
Hawaii and American Samoa also held contests Tuesday. Due to their far west time zones, however, most Americans would not know that Romney would easily win both those contests as news of the Alabama and Mississippi contests was being reported.
Additionally, while Romney came in third in both Alabama and Mississippi, it was not a distant third. He was five percentage points behind Santorum in Alabama and less than three percentage points behind Santorum in Mississippi. Considering that the South is where Romney is the weakest, it could be argued that his showing was better than expected.
Due to the proportional allocation of delegates, Romney won 11 delegates in Alabama and 12 delegates in Mississippi. With his delegate haul from Hawaii and American Samoa, Romney actually won the delegate count Tuesday even as Santorum made most of the headlines. According to RealClearPolitics.com, Romney won 40 delegates, followed by Santorum's 35 delegates and Newt Gingrich's 25 delegates. Ron Paul won no delegates.
The Romney campaign may itself be partly to blame for the less than positive press coverage. Romney was suggesting that he could win one or both of the Southern states before the results came in. In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer the day of the election, Romney said that Santorum was at the "desperate end" of his campaign.
Also on Tuesday, Erich Fehrnstrom, senior adviser for the Romney campaign, was already talking as if Romney was going to win.
"I don't think anybody expected Mitt to win Alabama or Mississippi. As Mitt said early on in the campaign, this was an away game for him, and I think that's true," Fehrnstrom said at 8 p.m. on CNN as the polls were closing.
Erick Erickson, blogger for the conservative RedState.com, wrote Wednesday that Romney should fire his campaign staff for mismanaging expectations.
"I don't think I have seen any political team mishandle and bungle expectations as badly as Team Romney. Every time they let expectations get out of hand they lose. They did it in Iowa. They did it in South Carolina. They did it in Tennessee. They did it in Mississippi. Hell, they did it in Michigan where Romney did win, but by less than three percent," Erickson wrote.
Despite running a poor campaign, though, Erickson recognized Romney's wins in Hawaii and American Samoa and still expects Romney to become the nominee.
"In five years of campaigning it is stunning to me that the Romney camp still has no clue how to play the expectations game. It is increasingly clear it is not a well-run campaign, Mitt Romney is not a good campaigner, but he will still, more likely than not, be the GOP nominee. While all eyes were focused on Alabama and Mississippi, Romney was doing quite well in Hawaii and American Samoa."