Can you feel the Romnentum? Me neither.
Following his wins in Michigan, Arizona, Maine & Wyoming, Mitt Romney has at least regained the aura of a front-runner and silenced the punditry’s Opium dreams of a contested convention, for now. But with Tuesday the grandest night of the GOP presidential contest calendar (466 delegates are up for grabs; kinda…let’s not talk about unpledged caucuses for a moment), the chance for the race to be changed awaits voters in 10 states.
- Ohio (primary): The center stage of this delegate-rich Mardi Gras night, Ohio is seen not just as the fulcrum on which the outcome of the race pivots, but also the competing narratives of the two major candidates. The meme of Mitt Romney’s aloofness from white working class voters has been certainly been strengthened by the candidate’s repeated gaffes on his wealth, yet Romney and Santorum tied among voters without secondary education. Santorum’s choosing of Michigan as his challenging ground was due entirely to the supposed demographic resemblance to the blue-collar communities that Santorum successfully rallied to win his congressional and Senate seats. Fitting neatly into the Rust Belt, Ohio should be attractive Santorum territory. And by RCP averages, it is as Santorum leads there by 8.3%. But who needs Ohio more? Karl Rove argues that Santorum needs the state to even survive politically while Romney can afford at least a narrow loss. That may be true from a delegate standpoint (all of Santorum’s wins have been from unpledged delegate states), but determining who truly needs the headlines of a Ohio victory is easier to see by looking around at the rest of the March 6th primary states.
- Oklahoma (primary): The raging wheat must sure smell sweat to Santorum who holds a 43%-22% lead over Gingrich in the state as Romney only manages 18%. Santorum’s team has identified Oklahoma as one of his “must win” states in addition to Ohio and…
- Tennessee (primary): Santorum is poised for a crushing victory here, holding an RCP average of 19.5% over Romney. In both cases, even if Santorum’s numbers drop, he’s still positioned to win comfortably and dent the meme that he can only win caucus states. Does Santorum run the risk of looking too much like a regional candidate (don’t be surprised for the media to suddenly declare Oklahoma a classic “southern” state)? Perhaps, if he can’t win another state on Super Tuesday.
- Alaska, North Dakota & Idaho (caucuses): Well, so much for that Santorum concern. All three are likely to fall into Santorum’s camp, despite Romney rolling out the lion’s share of party endorsements in North Dakota (because that worked so well in Minnesota). There isn’t reliable polling on any of these three states, and even if there was, caucus polling is one step short of political alchemy. The only real concern Santorum should have is whether the media will treat victories in these states as significant. Santorum’s poised to win the most states on Super Tuesday, but not necessarily the most delegates. Which becomes the headline Wednesday morning? Because Romney isn’t going home empty-handed.
- Virginia (primary): Yes, Virginia, there is a primary on Super Tuesday. It lives in the hearts of all Republican activists, because frankly, there isn’t much of a contest. It’s Romney versus Paul, and since Paul has about as much of a chance of winning a state as attacking Romney in a debate, Romney’s winning in a walk. Unfortunately for Mitt, that’s exactly how the press will treat his win.
- Massachusetts (primary): A contest in Romney’s actual home state isn’t going to be as close as Michigan. As of the last poll, Romney holds 63% of the vote. If his night doesn’t go well, fully except Team Romney to crow about the margin – and that the media won’t care.
- Vermont (primary): At last, a vote Romney is expected to win that isn’t either A) missing one or more of his opponents or B) a state that he’s declared residency in at some point. Unfortunately, that state is Vermont and even more unfortunately, Romney only holds a 7% lead. That was at the height of Santorumania and Rick isn’t making a serious bid here, meaning Romney is likely to win by more.
- Georgia (primary): Somewhat oddly, the biggest delegate prize of the night (76 in all) has among the least amount of attention of the larger Super Tuesday states. That’s of course because most pundits have assumed that Newt Gingrich will win despite his RCP average of 9% (created by two polls that show him with double-digit leads against two that show a neck-and-neck race). The night could very well end with Gingrich holding the second-most pledged delegates while being discussed as an afterthought. Gingrich has hinged his campaign on a southern strategy, despite his relative lack of southern cultural cues. Newt won’t driven out of the race if he only wins Georgia, believing that victories in upcoming Alabama and Mississippi are not only possible, but will change the trajectory of the race. Instead, he’ll likely cost Santorum several states he could have won post Tuesday, muddling the non-Romney waters.
So who needs Ohio more? The answer would seem to be Romney. Losing 6 of 10 states on Super Tuesday isn’t the performance of a front-runner. Losing 7 of 10, including a major November bellweather, isn’t even the campaign of a significant challenger.