Moments after the polls closed in Louisiana tonight, Rick Santorum was proclaimed the victor. Polls had shown the former senator with a big lead going into Saturday and it appears the state’s heavy concentration of evangelicals and Deep South conservatives has given him a big victory. But though Santorum spoke of Louisiana once again changing the dynamic of the GOP race, it’s too late for that. Though the first few months of the campaign were characterized by frequent momentum shifts, with almost half of the delegates to the Republican National Convention already chosen, the pattern of the contest is now already set in stone. Mitt Romney’s lead, which won’t be affected much by Santorum’s win tonight, is too big.

The chance for that next big momentum change Santorum was looking for has already come and gone. The opportunity for that game changing victory was there for the taking in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois where a win over Romney would have demonstrated that Santorum could take large and diverse states, not just the ones dominated by evangelicals. But having lost each one of those tests, Louisiana won’t make up for those defeats. That means tonight’s party may be one of the last moments for Santorum’s supporters to celebrate as he faces likely defeat in a string of states that will vote next.

The April results will pad Romney’s delegate advantage and bring him much closer to the magic number of 1,144. Santorum will fight hard in Wisconsin but trails badly and given the results in other Midwestern states that he has already lost, there’s no reason to believe he’ll do better there. April 3, when Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia vote will be good for Romney. Looking ahead the only state that will vote in April where Santorum has a shot is his home base in Pennsylvania. But even though he currently leads in the polls, there are danger signs even there for him. Plagued even there, as he has been throughout the country, apparently he won’t have delegate slates in every district meaning that even if he holds on and wins the popular vote there, Romney may still win a majority of delegates. That could make April 24, exactly one month after Louisiana votes, a day of reckoning for Santorum as Romney wins in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware bury his hopes.

It should be acknowledged that Santorum’s primary run has been an amazing accomplishment. With virtually no organization and short of money, he has amassed an impressive series of victories and an impressive delegate total. If heading into this year, Republicans spoke of Mike Huckabee’s out-of-nowhere showing in 2008 as the template for conservative upstarts, Santorum has done far better. It won’t be nearly enough to win him the Republican nomination but it has reclaimed his reputation as a successful politician and given him a future in his party.

So while no one should begrudge Santorum his celebration tonight or his right to spend the next few weeks trying to pull off a miracle, it’s only a matter of time until Romney clinches. Nothing that happened Saturday in Louisiana can change that.

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