BATTLE ROYALE

03.06.12

Super Tuesday’s High Stakes Showdown

Today’s the day. The GOP candidates are spread across the country, vying for last-minute votes in the 10 states holding primaries today. The biggest Super Tuesday trophy: Ohio, where polls show Mitt Romney with a slight lead over Rick Santorum. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich is poised to take Georgia. Ben Jacobs previews all the races.

Mitt Romney may be peaking at the right time.

On the eve of Super Tuesday, when nearly 20 percent of the delegates to the Republican National Convention will be allotted in contests stretching across the country from Cape Cod to the Aleutian Islands, the former Massachusetts governor seems poised for a big night. The picture was muddled even after Romney’s narrow win in Michigan and landslide victory in Arizona last Tuesday. But since then, polls seem to show Romney finally poised to capture the momentum that’s eluded him thus far. But will that be enough to finally put the GOP frontrunner on a glide path to the nomination after voters have their say today?

The contests:

Georgia

The biggest prize in terms of delegates today is Georgia. It has 76 delegates up for the taking and Newt Gingrich desperately needs all of them. The former speaker’s campaign is on the ropes, and he needs a big win here to stay viable. Gingrich has redoubled his efforts in the state he represented in Congress for 20 years, stating earlier this week, “I have to win Georgia, I think, to be credible in the race.” Although Gingrich is favored to win the state handily, Romney is expected to perform strongly in certain pockets around Atlanta.

However, the Romney campaign likely won’t be too broken-hearted about finishing behind the Gingrich campaign in Georgia. Gingrich’s win keeps him in the race and prevents the anti-Romney vote from consolidating behind Santorum in the Southern states. With states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana approaching, Romney’s campaign wouldn’t mind if Gingrich held on for a few more weeks.

Ohio

The perennial general-election swing state has become a battleground in this year’s Republican primary as well, with Romney and Santorum waging a fierce battle to claim a win in the Buckeye State. While Romney has the narrow edge in the latest polling, he will almost certainly claim more of the state’s 63 delegates than Santorum regardless. The former Pennsylvania senator’s campaign failed to file full delegate slates in a number of Ohio congressional districts, including several he is expected to win in. As a result, the delegates he should have won will be considered “unallocated” and be assigned by the state party. While this will likely be litigated, whatever the end result, it doesn’t reflect well on Santorum’s organization.

Tennessee

Tennessee’s 55 delegates are also up for grabs in a close two-way race between Romney and Santorum. But unlike Ohio, Gingrich is also in the mix here, and poised to obtain some delegates as well. However, because the state metes out its delegates in a relatively proportionate manner, a narrow win will be almost meaningless in the delegate race. But if Romney pulls off a victory, it would enable him to refute growing worries among many Republicans about his weakness in the South. Not to mention that it would validate his strategy of campaigning in song.

Virginia

Both Gingrich and Santorum currently live in Virginia. But not only will they not win their state of residence, they will be unable to vote for themselves, since their campaigns failed to rack up the signatures needed for a place on the ballot. Instead, it will come down to a contest between Romney and Ron Paul in the Old Dominion. The only real suspense here is whether Paul can muster a win in at least one congressional district, which would avert a total Romney shutout. But it’s more likely than not Romney will run the table and rack up all 46 Virginia delegates in play.

Oklahoma

Like the corn, Rick Santorum’s support is as high as an elephant’s eye in Oklahoma. Although support for the former Pennsylvania senator is slipping in the Sooner State, he is still the favorite to capture a plurality of the 40 delegates up for grabs. Gingrich and Romney have hotly contested the state, though, and are well positioned to pick up some delegates there. While all three candidates will muster a significant number of delegates, it’s likely that Oklahoma will still light up as a Santorum win tonight.

Massachusetts

Mitt Romney will win Massachusetts, the only question is by how much. The 38 delegates up for grabs in Massachusetts will be assigned proportionally to any candidate who receives more than 15 percent of the vote. The question is whether either Santorum or Paul will reach that threshold. With a strong turnout, Romney may be believed to prevent either from doing so and capture all the Bay State’s delegates. However, it is likely that at least one of them will edge past 15 percent. The result will force Romney to settle for a crushing win on his native turf, rather than a clean sweep.

Idaho

The rules in Idaho’s caucuses are much like a Rube Goldberg machine, involving a series of votes held county by county where candidates are gradually eliminated until one can eventually claim the support of 50 percent of caucusgoers. At that point, the winning candidate claims the entire county’s share of national delegates. Should one candidate claim a majority of the national delegate share statewide, he gets all of Idaho’s 32 delegates. If not, the delegates get split proportionally. Both Paul and Romney have been fighting intensely in the state, with Paul even sounding out press releases boasting that he has the support of five of Romney’s distant cousins in the state (although, given the large size of the Romney family, it’s less of an accomplishment than it might seem). However, with the state’s significant Mormon population, it seems likely he’ll break the 50 percent threshold.

Vermont

Romney will win the Green Mountain state. His only concern is whether he will pass the 50 percent threshold necessary for him to garner all 17 delegates. While there is an active Paul effort in Vermont, it’s unlikely after Romney’s recent uptick in the polls that the Texas congressman’s organizing will be sufficient to hold Romney under a majority. It seems likely at this point that the former Massachusetts governor will sweep Vermont and further increase his delegate lead. The relative handful of delegates from Vermont will likely be the icing on the cake on what promises to be a very good night for Romney but one that may fall short of a “game changer.”

Past those eight contests, two other states are notionally part of Super Tuesday:

North Dakota

The North Dakota caucuses will not select a single delegate Tuesday. It is a beauty-contest caucus, like Missouri’s beauty-contest primary several weeks ago, only with all the added hazards and limited hours of a caucus. Only a presidential preference poll is conducted at the North Dakota caucuses, while the delegates to the state convention have already been selected. In fact, the contest differs from other caucuses in that residents can vote at any caucus site in the state and need not cast a ballot in their own town or neighborhood. Paul will even address the caucus held in Fargo, the largest city in the state. The result in North Dakota tonight may be interesting but it will not be meaningful.

Alaska

Alaska is technically part of Super Tuesday, but because of the time difference it will already be Wednesday in much of the lower 48 before voting in the North State’s presidential preference poll is complete. Voters spread across the state have not been polled, although Ron Paul has gone so far as to make a campaign visit, holding events in Anchorage and Fairbanks. But while Alaska voters have a noteworthy maverick streak, they also have repeatedly elected establishment Republicans like Mitt Romney, too. What may be the crucial indicator are the results in the other Super Tuesday races. Alaska is a caucus, not a primary and when voters show up, they’ll already have a sense of what’s happened elsewhere. As a result, the battle there between Romney and Paul becomes near impossible to predict.