Tonight is the primary in Wisconsin Maryland and the District of Columbia. Wisconsin is the big fight today and Mitt Romney holds modest edge in all the polling. You can find my primer for tonight here.
The primary states’ poll closing times (Eastern):
8:00 PM: DC and Maryland
9:00 PM: Wisconsin
7:58 pm – The early exit polling data shows eight in ten of Wisconsin voters think Romney will eventually be the nominee.
8:00 pm – CNN projects Mitt Romney will win Maryland. Based on the exit polls Romney will by roughly 20 points, which is why the race was called as soon as the polls closed.
8:02 pm – You can find the exit polling data for Maryland here at CNN.
8:04 pm – Looking at the exit polls Romney won practically across the board. Romney won all income groups and education levels. He also won both men and women. Although Santorum won voters under the age of 45.
8:10 pm – The worst news for Santorum is that in Maryland exit polling data is that Romney won even with the groups that traditional go for Santorum. Romney and Santorum split the”very conservative” vote with both getting 40%. Similarly Romney managed to even narrowly win among Evangelical/born-again Christians.
8:15 pm – Romney even solidly won the non-suburb parts of Maryland by a margin of Romney 46% to Santorum 34%.
8:24 pm – NBC projects Romney will win Washington DC. This was expected given that Santorum failed to even qualify for the ballot.
8:40 pm – DC is winner take all so Romney will net all of the district’s 16 bound delegates.
9:00 pm – Polls are not closed in Wisconsin. There is no call yet but exit polls have Romney leading by about eight points, which is nearly identical to his lead in polling going into today’s vote.
9:05 pm – Tonight is looking really bad for Rick Santorum. With about 10% reporting in Maryland it looks like Romney could win every congressional district which would result in him netting all the delegates from the state.
9:08 pm – You can find the exit polling for Wisconsin here at CNN. In Wisconsin Romney actually beat Santorum among “very conservative” voters. Romney doesn’t just have a large nature base than Santorum but Romney is now starting to actually win a good chunk of what was Santorum base.
9:12 pm – The Evangelical vote is no longer breaking heavily enough for Santorum to give him victory. In Wisconsin Santorum only won evangelicals Santorum 41% to Romney 38%. The death watch for his campaign has begun.
9:14 pm – Santorum is now speaking. Good sign he doesn’t expect a win in Wisconsin tonight.
9:20 pm – It is probably hard to be objective but Santorum sounds tired and drained of energy in this speech.
9:25 pm – You do get the sense that the “etch a sketch” comment will dog Romney for the entire campaign is not longer.
9:35 pm – With 7% reporting it Wisconsin it is currently Romney 42%, Santorum 40%, Ron Paul 11%, Newt Gingrich 6%.
9:37 pm – CNN is projecting that Romney will win Wisconsin. Romney has a clear sweep for the night having also won Maryland and DC.
9:45 pm – Paul Ryan is now introducing Mitt Romney in Wisconsin.
Final thoughts – This was a great night for Mitt Romney and more importantly, a terrible night for Rick Santorum. Santorum needed a win in Wisconsin to change the narrative that Romney is inevitable and he failed to do that. Romney also beat Santorum by such a large margin in Maryland that tonight Romney will move much closer to getting the necessary 1144 delegates.
Perhaps even worse than Santorum losing Wisconsin is the fact that his nature base is not long voting overwhelming for him. In both Maryland and Wisconsin Romney did basically as well with very conservative voters and evangelicals as Santorum did. One of the few remaining justifications for the Santorum campaign was that the very conservative base would never embrace Romney, but tonight it looks like they are. In my opinion, the Santorum campaign is now a death watch. It looks like it is not a matter of if he will drop out, but when.