Just before we started the Editorial Board meeting at 10 a.m., the news came across the wire that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney was dropping out of the race.

“If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win,” Romney said at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference this morning.

His announcment started a discussion focusing on (1) why Romney failed to connect with voters and (2) what this will mean to the presidential race.

Having outspent Sen. John McCain 2 to 1, it’s hard to believe Romney didn’t do better. Two factors that may have played a role: His flip-flopping on key issues (abortion in particular) and his Mormon faith. While Romney received praise for a speech this fall on his faith, it may have failed to reassure voters.

His decision makes it a near guarantee that McCain will clinch the GOP nomination, and will allow the Arizona senator to move to the middle politically. This will increase his appeal to moderate and independent general election voters.

The big questions for Democrats: Who is best positioned to counter McCain, Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama? And how much will a prolonged nomination battle hurt the Democrat’s chances in November?

— Ann DuBay