Romney's Washington Win: GOP Contest Goes Back to the Future

With his fifth straight primary or caucus victory, the former Massachusetts governor is looking like the inevitable nominee -- again.

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It's probably foolhardy to even think it, much less say it, but Mitt Romney's win in Washington state's caucus preference poll feels like it could be the beginning of the end of the Republican nomination race.

For those counting, it's his fifth victory in a row. Granted, two of the wins came in non-binding preference polls at caucuses in Maine and Wyoming -- and they involved fewer than 8,000 voters combined. And yes, Romney won by only 3 percentage points in his boyhood home state of Michigan. But he had a solid victory in Arizona and by at least one poll's reckoning, he came from behind to win Washington.

The Washington results suggest Romney gained some momentum from his double wins on Feb. 28. The Ohio also polls started tightening after that, and now Romney has notched another win on the way to Ohio and the nine other contests coming up on Super Tuesday.

At the same time that Romney is -- oh let's just say it -- gathering steam, Rick Santorum is struggling to prove his triple victories Feb. 7 in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado were not flukes. But he's being hampered by organizational missteps that will cost him delegates, and rhetorical excess likely to cost him votes.

It's a back to the future moment in the GOP contest, and I mean way back.

The well-organized and well-financed Romney is seeming inevitable, the way he did in long-ago debates where he exuded a brisk competence as his rivals sniped and gaffed and fell apart one by one. Those were the days before he lost South Carolina to Newt Gingrich and the Feb. 7 trifecta to Santorum; before he mishandled the release of his tax returns and turned into a character from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Romney's not going to take all 10 contests on Tuesday, and obviously the race won't end until Republican voters want it to. But a win in Ohio -- the top prize of the day -- is looking increasingly likely. A surprise win somewhere else, such as Tennessee, would cement the narrative of the Romney comeback and send an unmistakable signal that the party has endured enough intramural bashing and is ready to move on to bashing President Obama.

All of that is analysis, by the way. Not predictions. No one would presume to dare this year.

Image: Marcus Donner / Reuters

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Jill Lawrence is a national correspondent at National Journal. She was previously a columnist at Politics Daily, national political correspondent at USA Today and national political writer at the Associated Press.

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