Mitt Romney had a pretty good weekend, winning, on Saturday, both the Maine caucuses and the straw poll at CPAC, the annual convention for conservatives in Washington, D.C. True, fewer than 10,000 people participated in those contests combined; true, Romney’s margin of victory in Maine over second-place Rep. Ron Paul was 194 (not as paltry as it seems, actually, given that barely 5,500 people caucused); true, many expected to him to have wrapped up the nomination long ago. And, true, Rick Santorum is polling ahead of Romney in Michigan, which holds one of the next primaries and of which Romney’s father was governor. But still, Romney’s in the driver’s seat: If he can string together victories in the Michigan and Arizona primaries at the end of the month, he can for most intents and purposes finish this thing in early March on Super Tuesday. And meanwhile, it appears the also-ran will be Rick Santorum; or possibly, by some miracle, Newt Gingrich (whom Sheldon Adelson is no longer funding—for now).
Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich: three non-Protestants. One of them will be only the fifth non-Protestant major-party presidential nominee in United States history—and the first Republican.
The list! Al Smith, 1928. John Kennedy, 1960. Michael Dukakis, 1988. John Kerry, 2004. Three Catholics and one Greek Orthodox (I’ll let you guess which is which). Only one, of course, became president.
Romney is Mormon (not Protestant, it’s different), while Santorum and Gingrich are both Catholic. It’s much more of a milestone than many observers are giving it credit for. And it’s going to make the inevitable first credible Jewish candidate—and then the inevitable first Jewish nominee—come a little sooner.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.