Mitt Romney's Victory Bores the Press

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Veteran professional GOP primary watchers are starting to sound a wee bit bored: Mitt Romney won big in Illinois, but because they all saw it coming (it's their job to make accurate predictions, after all) nothing has changed in the presidential race. Welcome to the catch 22 of political punditry: after filling blogs and cable hours with predictions, everyone is disappointed by not being surprised.

Romney was supposed to beat Santorum by about 10 point and take in a little under half the total vote. And indeed, that's not very far from what happened. To get a sense of how little political watchers had to revise their narratives, look at The New York Times's Nate Silver before and after Illinois. Silver barely needed to rephrase. Before the primary, he wrote that it "isn’t a close race, nor is it one that it is likely to require a brokered convention to resolve. If that is the count after Illinois votes, Mr. Romney would require only 46 percent of the remaining delegates to clinch a majority." Wednesday he writes in the aftermath, "Increasingly, the nomination race is entering an endgame stage in which it is less a two-man contest between Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum than one that pits Mr. Romney against himself ... Mr. Romney would need to win only 46 percent of the remaining delegates to get to 1,144."

Most pundits made predictions about how the Illinois primary would affect the dynamics of the race based on polling that showed Romney winning big. Politico's preview post noted that "exit polls (in previous primaries) frame Santorum as a candidate whose support exists within very narrow boundaries" and predicted that a Romney victory would solidify his bid for the nomination. After the vote, Politico's Maggie Haberman confirmed that indeed, Santorum's "path has narrowed, and there is a sense that last night might have been the beginning of the end." But she sounded mildly bored in summing up that up. "Little changed for Romney in terms of the ultimate delegate math — he won roughly what he was expected to, and his path forward remains about the same as where it was."

Chris Cilliza of The Washington Post probably sounded the least excited of all, titling his Wednesday post, "Mitt Romney won Illinois. So what?" 

Romney remains the all-but-certain winner but without the ability — at least so far — to land the single knockout blow he needs to convincingly end this race. Illinois didn't change that.

The "so what" and verbs like "remains" "didn't change" in his and Haberman's posts can definitely sound negative to readers. But of course the only reason the race's dynamics didn't didn't change is because the dynamics were entirely predicated on pundits accurately predicting the results of the race. What is this unforeseen "knockout blow" that Cilliza -- and others crave? And could they ever be satisfied if it ever materialized? (This is not the knockout blow you are looking for.) It's not that "nothing changed" last night, it's that the changes were exactly what journalists predicted they'd be.

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