Mitt Romney won easily in Virginia, a state where Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were not even on the ballot, and one with a more moderate electorate than the other Southern states voting tonight. But insurgent Ron Paul pulled enough votes to give non-Romney forces some cheer nonetheless.
Paul won the three in 10 Virginia voters who identified themselves as independents, by a wide 64-36 percent. He won the 36 percent looking either for the candidate with “strong moral character” or the “true conservative” in the race, by a combined total of 70-29 percent. Paul also won 51 percent of moderates or liberals voting in the commonwealth, and 45 percent of non-evangelical voters.
Still, Paul did not pull votes in some of the groups in which Romney has struggled – e.g., very conservatives, evangelicals, those focused on shared religious beliefs and abortion opponents. Paul has little appeal of his own there, and Romney, against form, won those groups by more than 20-point margins.
If Santorum and Gingrich had been on the ballot, four in 10 voters said they would have voted for Romney anyway. But if Santorum and Gingrich really had been on the ballot, the people who showed up to vote may well have been different – and the outcome, anyone’s guess.