Who won the most votes in Tuesday night’s primary elections?
When it comes to the sheer mass of votes cast, Barack Obama—the man Romney desperately wants to start campaigning against after being so distracted for so long by Santorum—actually had the best night of any presidential contender.
Indeed, it was a dramatically better night for Obama than for Romney—even if all the attention, and the headlines, went to the Republican. The president, running unopposed in Democratic primaries so low-profile that many voters did not know they were occurring, was far and away Tuesday’s top vote-getter.
The point here is not to diminish Romney’s win, nor the significant boost Tuesday’s results give him in his pursuit of the Republican nod.
But it is important to note that, as Romney was celebrating his "victory," Obama—running uncontested in primaries so low-profile that their results were not even reported in much of the coverage of Tuesday’s voting—was quietly collecting more votes.
To be sure, Romney won the primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia. And, by besting Rick Santorum and the remainder of the Republican field, Romney earned his share of "hat trick" and "trifecta" headlines.
"Romney Sweeps…" declared the the New York Times.
But Romney barely beat Santorum in Wisconsin, running ahead of his underfunded challenger by a roughly 42–38 margin. In Maryland, Romney did better, but he still fell well short of the 50 percent mark—maintaining a pattern that has held across the vast majority of GOP primary and caucus states.
Only in the District of Columbia did Romney secure what could reasonably be described as a sweeping victory. The percentages there looked great: Romney 70 percent, Ron Paul 12 percent, Newt Gingrich 11 percent, Jon Huntsman (in one of the better finishes of the season for a non-candidate) 7 percent.
But Romney’s actual vote in the super-low turnout District of Columbia GOP primary was just 3,122.
It wasn’t all that much better in Maryland, where, with all the votes counted, Romney was well below the 120,000 vote mark.
And in Wisconsin, with 97 percent counted, Romney was only at 305,000.
Romney’s three-state total was better than Santorum, Gingrich or Paul.
But it wasn’t anywhere near as good as that of another candidate, Barack Obama.
In the District of Columbia, the president’s Democratic primary total was at 51,289—more than fifteen times Romney’s Republican primary total.
In Maryland, where Romney was struggling to get to the 117,000 mark in the GOP primary, Obama was surpassing 275,000 in the Democratic primary. That way better than a 2–1 margin for the president.
And in Wisconsin, which got the lion’s share of attention on this primary day, Romney’s 305,000 GOP total (with 97 percent of precincts reporting) was barely better than Obama’s 285,000 total on the Democratic side.
Add Obama’s votes up across the three jurisdictions that voted Tuesday and he’s almost 200,000 votes ahead of Romney.
Obama has done better in individual states than Romney before. In Ohio, for instance, the president’s Democratic primary vote was dramatically higher than Romney’s Republican primary vote. But that was just one state on one night.
Tuesday night provided a broader measure from three very different voting jurisdictions. And that measure was strikingly positive for the president.
In fact, the president won more than ten times as many District of Columbia votes as all the Republican contenders combined. That’s not exactly shocking, as the district is a Democratic stronghold.
But in Maryland, a state that sends Republicans to Congress and that has elected a Republican governor in recent years, Obama won substantially more votes than all the Republican presidential contenders combined.
In Wisconsin, Obama was running just short of even with Romney, and he was proving to be a dramatically more successful popular-vote getter than Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul.
The numbers provide a sobering reminder for the Republicans. Turnout, even for their intensely fought contests, remains low. And in most cases, Romney still does not win a majority of the votes. The GOP’s "enthusiasm gap" has been much discussed during the course of the 2012 competition.
But the extent of the gap was writ large across Tuesday night’s results in three very different jurisdictions.
There is no question that Obama has also wrestled with enthusiasm-gap issues. That was especially true in some early primary states, such as New Hampshire.
But as the Republican race has dragged on, Obama’s numbers on the Democratic side have improved.
So it was that, on what was hailed as a big night for Mitt Romney, the Republican frontrunner still did not get a majority of Republican votes cast. He he got far fewer votes than Barack Obama.