Setting the Super Tuesday stakes

February 29, 2012

On Super Tuesday more delegates will be awarded than in in the first two months of the Republican presidential race combined.


A supporter's reflection and the image of Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, are seen on the screen of his iPad as he photographs Romney, greeting supporters at American Posts in Toledo, Ohio, Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Just like in any national election, not all of the 10 states set to vote next Tuesday are equally important. The larger the number of delegates up for grabs, the more important the state will be to the delegate math for candidates like former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

That delegate reality makes Ohio the key Super Tuesday state. Not only does it award 66 delegates — the second most of any state voting on March 6 — but the Buckeye State will also be a central battleground in the fall presidential campaign. A win by Santorum or Romnney in Ohio then allows either one to make the case that he is the most electable candidate in a state that matters to the general election calculus.

Romney has already spent $1.2 million on ads in Ohio while Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting his candidacy, has dropped upwards of $1.8 million. That sort of spending, which dwarfs Santorum and all of the other candidates, is a testament to just how important winning the state is to Romney.

Despite that spending, the Real Clear Politics polling average in Ohio puts Santorum in the lead with 34 percent as compared to Romney at 26 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 18 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 11 percent.

For Romney and Santorum, winning Ohio could make up for losing in a lot of other places on Super Tuesday. As a result, it’s where they will spend the lion’s share of their time and money over the next six days.

Below is our initial handicapping of where the presidential race stands in each of the 10 states set to vote on Super Tuesday. Before we get to it, a caveat: We are less than 24 hours removed from Romney’s Arizona and Michigan daily double. It remains to be see how much (if at all) those wins will impact the Super Tuesday states.

Alaska: In the world of low turnout votes, the Alaska primary may take the cake. In the 2008 Republican caucuses less than 14,000 people cast votes. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has kind of, sort of endorsed Gingrich but it’s not clear whether that’s a good, bad or indifferent thing as it relates to the former House Speaker’s chances in the Last Frontier.

Georgia: This is a must-win state for Gingrich. It’s his home state and by far his best chance to score a win in a Super Tuesday state. Polling suggests Gingrich is holding a steady though not insurmountable lead in the Peach State though it remains to be seen whether his nonexistent performance in Michigan and Arizona will impact — in a negative way — his chances in Georgia. If Newt loses Georgia, it’s hard to see how he can justify staying in the race.

Idaho: This may be the biggest battleground of the three caucus states holding contests on Super Tuesday. Romney should do well here because the state is about one-quarter Mormon, but Paul has eyed the state as one that he could potentially win. (It was his best state in 2008; he took 24 percent in what was then a primary). And Santorum and Gingrich have also visited the state in recent weeks. So there’s plenty of competition here.

Massachusetts: Romney will win. While he may have called Michigan his home state, this is the state where he was recently governor and where his more moderate politics make him a heavy favorite. But keep this in mind: He beat Arizona Sen. John McCain just 51 percent to 41 percent in Massachusetts on Super Tuesday 2008, so it’s not like this is a guaranteed blowout. (Then again, McCain was seen as the more moderate candidate in that race).

North Dakota: This is a caucus state and, as such, may give Paul a fighting chance. But, Romney isn’t ceding the state to Paul; the former Massachusetts governor is scheduled to make a stop in snowy Fargo — is it ever not snowy? — on Thursday, a demonstration of his campaign’s belief that he can compete here. Romney, who won the North Dakota caucuses in 2008, also has the backing of Sen. John Hoeven , the most popular Republican elected official in the Peace Garden State.

Ohio: The Buckeye State is the next big battleground in the GOP presidential race. Ohio seems to have all the demographic challenges of Michigan for Romney, but without the hometown ties. A pair of polls this week showed Santorum leading by 7 percent and 11 percent so Romney has some work to do.

Oklahoma: This could be another very competitive race up and down the ballot. It combines Santorum’s strength in the Midwest with Gingrich’s strength in the South, meaning both of those candidates may go for the victory. This isn’t a strong state for Romney, but he may be able to shoot the gap if Santorum and Gingrich split the conservative vote. Early polling showed Santorum sprinting to a double-digit lead, but that was in the aftermath of his big wins on Feb. 7. This could be one of the more interesting contests of Super Tuesday.

Tennessee: The Volunteer State is often overlooked when analyzing key Super Tuesday states. It shouldn’t be. Tennessee will dole out 58 delegates on Tuesday — though the complicated allocation rules make it tough for any one candidate to amass a large majority of the state’s delegates — and it may be the purest test of southern strength on Super Tuesday, particularly since Gingrich has a home state edge in Georgia. Polling in Tennessee suggests the state is Santorum’s to lose.

Vermont: None of the other candidates will try to challenge Romney’s dominance in the Green Mountain State. A poll conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute, which was in the field for a decidedly too-long 10 days, showed Romney leading Santorum 34 percent to 27 percent in Vermont but that seems a too-narrow margin for the former Massachusetts governor. Vermont will be a bright spot for Romney next Tuesday. The question is whether he will have enough other bright spots for it to matter.

Virginia: This is the oddest contest of the day, because it pits Romney against Paul, one-on-one. Santorum and Gingrich (along with every other candidate who was in the race) didn’t qualify for the ballot, leaving Romney and Paul to duke it out. Assuming Paul doesn’t shock the world by actually competing with Romney here, Romney should be able to lock up all of the state’s 49 delegates by winning the statewide vote and each congressional district.

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