Republicans braced for bruising Super Tuesday
With ten states heading to the polls, the results of Super Tuesday will be scrutinised to predict how much longer the Republican race for the presidential nomination is likely to go on, and how bitter it will be.
It’s the most crucial point in the increasingly bruising race for the Republican presidential nomination: “Super Tuesday”, 6 March, when ten states head to the polls to vote for the conservative they hope to see unseat US President Barack Obama in the November general election.
The day’s importance largely comes down to numbers: out of the 1,144 total delegates needed to claim the nomination at the party’s convention in Florida at the end of the summer, more than 400 will be up for grabs on Tuesday. But delegates are awarded proportionally, meaning a second-place finish can be almost as lucrative as a win, and no candidate is likely to emerge from the day with a huge, irreversible lead over the others.
Still, as the pundits say, it’s a momentum game, and the results of Super Tuesday will be scrutinised to predict how much longer the Republican race is likely to go on, and how bitter it will be. If Mitt Romney does well enough to seal his frontrunner status, look for him to turn his attention back to Obama. If Rick Santorum ekes out a win in the crucial Midwestern state of Ohio, however, expect doubts to persist concerning Romney’s ability to rally coveted working-class voters to his candidacy.
Meanwhile, do the other two candidates left standing, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, even matter at this point?
Here’s a look at what’s at stake.
Romney appears poised to perform solidly on Super Tuesday. He is expected to win northeastern states Massachusetts (where he was governor just over five years ago) and Vermont, where his Ivy League pedigree, business background, and more moderate stance on social issues play well. He is also predicted to take Virginia and Idaho, the latter of which has a sizeable Mormon population.
Romney, who has struggled to fend off rivals seen as more consistently conservative, especially social hardliner Santorum, has gotten a welcome boost from recent endorsements by heavyweight party members. Most influential is that of House of Representatives majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who said “Mitt Romney is the man for this year”. If Romney outpaces his opponents on Super Tuesday, more big-name Republicans will probably follow Cantor’s example.
Ohio, the jewel of great price for Romney and Santorum
This Midwestern swing state will be the most closely watched of all. No Republican nominee has ever made it to the White House without winning Ohio in the general election, so the candidate who triumphs there Tuesday will argue that he is in a good position to fight Obama for the state in November. That explains why Romney and Santorum have spent much of their campaign time and money in Ohio.
Polls show the two running neck-and-neck in the state, where a large proportion of voters are blue-collar workers and farmers more concerned about the economy than social issues. If Romney prevails in Ohio, that could be the decisive moment at which he edges past Santorum and moves in on the nomination. If Santorum wins it, the two will continue to throttle each other for weeks, if not months, to come.
The Bible Belt
The conservative Southern states of Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma are where Newt Gingrich is hoping to make his mark and justify staying in the race. Gingrich, who was seen as Romney’s main rival several weeks ago, represented Georgia in the US House for many years, so a loss there would be both surprising and a clear sign that it is time for him to throw in the towel.
Gingrich is also competing hard in Tennessee and Oklahoma, but Santorum is thought to have a strong shot of winning those states, which are home to Christian conservatives and Tea Party supporters who have gravitated toward the former Pennsylvania senator.
Ron Paul’s relevance
Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a strict anti-government fiscal conservative, foreign policy dove, and anything-goes social libertarian, has yet to win a state in this Republican primary season. He might not change that unwelcome pattern on Super Tuesday, but he’s been campaigning steadily enough in Idaho, North Dakota, and Alaska to pick up a share of the delegates. That would allow him to continue his primary battle and therefore keep his name and unorthodox policy ideas in the conservative conversation.