The Republican nomination battle continues tomorrow, with the Kansas caucuses kicking off a stretch of the contest that will likely be very challenging for Mitt Romney.
Remember what’s at stake here. If this contest drags on, Romney may have to spend several more months appealing mainly to solid Republican voters rather than finding issues that will help him with swing constituencies. That means more issue commitments to Tea Partiers and other very conservative voters, and less time spending money in general election swing states instead of in places like, well, Kansas.
Here’s what lies ahead in the next few days.
Kansas caucuses, Saturday: There’s no polling for this caucus state, but everyone seems be believe that Rick Santorum should dominate here. It’s the right region for him, and he’s done a bit better in caucuses than primaries; since he’s expected to win, it’s unlikely to produce breakthrough headlines.
Alabama and Mississippi primaries ; Hawaii caucuses, Tuesday: What little polling there is suggests a close three-way split between Santorum, Romney, and Newt Gingrich in both of the Deep South states. Gingrich might (finally) give up and drop out if he can’t win either, which would allow Santorum to take on Romney in a head to head contest.
On the other hand, if Romney wins even one of them, it might be enough to trigger the long-awaited stampede from GOP party actors into Romney’s camp that would put him over the top. Hawaii is expected to be Romney territory, although since it will be reported late and it’s a caucus rather than a primary, so it will be ignored in the press coverage.
The territories (Guam Republican convention, Northern Marianas Republican convention, and Virgin Islands Republican caucuses on Saturday, and Samoa Republican caucuses on Tuesday): For those obsessing about delegates, don’t forget about these contests. Traditionally, these events are thought to help moderate, Washington-approved candidates.
These are the events that Romney needs to win in order to pad his delegate totals and reach 1,144 delegates. But if Santorum does well, it will fuel talk that Romney can’t reach that number and that we may in for a contested convention.
Again, in this stretch Mitt Romney simply needs to keep accumulating delegates — which he probably will do — while looking for that breakthrough that can start the stampede of party actors his way. Without that, he’ll be stuck in the current status quo, perhaps all the way through June.