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A Real Sign of Progress for Romney?

You may recall that I suggested Rick Santorum had a shot of exceeding expectations in Wisconsin by doing well in the Milwaukee suburbs, which looked on paper like they were solid Romney country but had a reputation for being more conservative than other Midwestern suburbs. 

Well, as it happens, Romney beat Santorum by more than 2:1 in Waukesha County, one of the most closely watched of these suburbs, which certainly surprised me. What explains the trouncing? Did the pundits who assumed Waukesha is a pretty conservative place just completely whiff? 

Not necessarily. As The New York Times points out today, the statewide exit polls show Romney slightly besting Santorum among self-described “very conservative” voters—44 to 43 percent. I’m not sure that’s a first for him, but it definitely bucks what had been a very strong trend. (Romney lost these voters in Illinois, Mississippi, Alabama, Ohio, Michigan, Florida… you get the idea.) That could explain the comfortable margins for him just outside Milwaukee even though these areas aren't your typical moderate suburbs.  

More importantly, of course, if Romney is now winning very conservative voters (whom I assume are starting to see the writing on the wall), he may be able to defuse that nagging Santorum problem of his before it dogs him through the rest of the spring. 

P.S. Waukesha may also help explain how Romney’s overall margin of victory abruptly jumped from under five points to over seven when the final percent or two of votes were tallied statewide. The county’s results were extremely late in coming—they weren’t complete until around 2am

Follow me on twitter: @noamscheiber