*** The beginning of the end? With Mitt Romney’s expected victory at tonight’s Florida primary, The New York Times asks a very good question: Will it mark the beginning of the end of the GOP nominating season, or will it merely signal the end of the beginning? On the one hand, Romney winning Florida would give him a victory in the largest, most diverse, and electorally important state so far. It would demonstrate his ability to bounce back from a major setback (the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary), as well as his organizational and financial strength. And, as our recent NBC/Marist poll suggests, a Romney win in Florida would represent his most impressive showing with conservative GOP voters outside of New England. As we’ve written before, Romney wouldn’t ever be a shoo-in for the Republican nomination until he won a GOP contest with support from the conservative/Tea Party base of the party. Florida might give him that kind of victory tonight.
*** Or is it just the end of the beginning? On the other hand, you could argue that the Republican nominating contest is far from being over. For starters, Newt Gingrich has vowed to “go all the way to the convention.” After all, hell hath no fury like a presidential candidate who believes he’s been scorned. Ron Paul’s campaign will continue, too. Remember, even after John Kerry won all the early contests in ’04, Howard Dean didn’t end his campaign until after Super Tuesday and after Wisconsin. What’s more, there’s a LONG way to go mathematically. After tonight’s contest, just 115 delegates (or projected delegates) will have been awarded, but it officially will take 1,144 delegates out of a total of 2,286 to clinch the nomination. So we’re just 5% of the way through, and don’t be surprised if you hear that stat from Gingrich today. Finally, every time we think this race (or Newt Gingrich, for that matter) is over, we find out we’re wrong. And why are we wrong? Because it's clear the activist conservative base (read: tea party) just isn't satisified with Romney and they aren't going to roll over this fast.