Let's give it up for Willard. Riding a wave of Romney nostalgia -- 42 percent of voters said the son of the former Michigan governor's ties to the state were "important" -- Mitt Romney took the gold tonight in America's Mitten.
Looking at the Exit Poll data, however, it's hard to see this as a victory for Romney so much as a big blow to McCain, who once again proved he's deeply out of step with the mainstream GOP electorate.
McCain edged out Romney among those who believe "abortion should be legal," those who "never" go to church and list "none" as their religion, urbanites, union members, fallen Catholics, pro-immigrant voters, the poor, Iraq war opponents, "moderates", Independents and even Democrats. He won this last group despite a well publicized effort to get Democrats to turn out for Mitt.
Mitt's victory also takes wind out of the sails of Mike "Let's Bible-ize the Constitution" Huckabee, who lost to Willard badly among white evangelical born-again Christians. Indeed the Huckster only won over those who attend church multiple times a week and believe abortion should "always be illegal."
Here's where this leaves us: Mitt's still got money -- and at this point may be the only candidate with the resources to properly compete in the February 5th national primary.
He's also got some indeterminate Mittmentum heading into South Carolina, where Fred Thompson -- in second place in a new Rasmussen poll -- suddenly looks like a foregone conclusion. Ok, not really, but wouldn't that be perfect?
Seriously, it's now a four-way race for the Palmetto State. If Mitt can stage a convincing upset of McCain and Huckabee there, he stomps Rudy in Florida and likely moves onto the nomination. If not, the GOP may be paging Newt Gingrich or Jeb Bush or some savior to be named later before this process is done.