It’s long, but reading it is good for your health.
Amid the backdrop of the media covering the tracks of Obama’s weak economic recovery, unconstitutional HHS mandates, and another entrenchment against Rush Limbaugh as “the de facto leader of the Republican Party” the GOP will be squaring off for arguably the biggest night in the GOP Primary season.
Mitt Romney is looking to maintain the momentum from his double win last Tuesday in Arizona, where he won by 20 points and Michigan where he won by a little over 25,000 votes. Romney has risen in the polls in Ohio, which looks to be the key battleground state both in this Primary and of course, the general election. While the last polls out in Ohio predict a split decision, the trend lines favor Romney. The former Massachusetts Governor is also trending upwards in Tennessee where most would have thought he’d have little chance to win-one poll has him up by the narrowest of margin, and all polling shows a dead heat among the top three candidates.
Rick Santorum has done nothing but struggle since his three, almost meaningless wins on February 7th in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. After those victories, he had staked claim to a 15 point lead in the polling data in Michigan, and ended up seeing an 18 point turnaround to the negative by election night. His focus on social issues, perceived or reality, especially in the light of the media’s full-frontal defense of the Obama Administration on the unconstitutional HHS mandate really hurt him among the voters he had been courting for some time, and Michigan exit polls showed it hurt him greatly with women. His “concession” speech in Michigan sought to triangulate his positions on social issues, women and the media in an apparent acknowledgement of this problem.
Newt Gingrich has gone as far as Sheldon’s wallet will take him. I’m of the opinion that it was incredibly smart calculus to spend most of that money on his home state of Georgia which will likely be among the first states called for candidates tonight after the polls have closed. Newt looks like he’ll win by a huge margin in Georgia where none of the other candidates have spent much time. Regardless, the huge margin of victory will certainly allow a sliver of hope to the former Speaker and his following, as he’ll likely be hoping Santorum has a bad night (more on this in a bit).
Ron Paul continues his attempt to remain relevant but we’re really starting to see what his campaign is about-not that we haven’t known all along. Dr. Paul does well in caucus states, especially those with open caucuses where he can court the disenchanted Obama voter to rally around his message. He continues to harp that he’ll have enough delegates when it’s all said and done to remain relevant, but I’m of the opinion that he needed to win either Iowa or New Hampshire. And despite all the claims that he’s in cahoots with the Romney campaign, the frustration that Romney’s big organization and money can turn out the vote more effectively in states like Washington (where Romney won the caucuses there handily on Saturday) has to be creeping in and is certainly causing Paul’s groundswell support to dwindle.
So, let me get into the good stuff, the predictions. As I previously stated I think Georgia will be among the first states to be called with the always hilarious “<1% Reporting” metric up on your TV screen. It will obviously go for Newt Gingrich. Gingrich will be looking to ride that victory to a final resurrection and challenge of Romney but he’ll also need some help tonight, namely from Romney. If Newt is going to have his third (fourth?) resurgence it’s going to have to come with the optics that Santorum simply doesn’t have what it takes and is just like all the others who’ve risen once against Romney, never to rise again. For that to happen, Newt’s win in Georgia must be coupled with Santorum losses in both Ohio and Tennessee. That’s a long shot, but should Romney win both in Ohio and Tennessee there is a scenario where Newt could re-emerge again as the “Conservative” contender.
For Santorum, he needs a big night. He’ll win easily in Oklahoma, but that’s been a given for some time. For him to continue to challenge Mitt Romney’s status as presumptive nominee, Santorum must win in both Ohio and Tennessee. Both states are important to the Santorum candidacy for completely different reasons. Santorum needs to win Ohio because he has to re-affirm that he is the blue-collar, buy lemonade from your kids type of guy, and he can’t lose Tennessee because he has to prove to everyone and himself that he indeed is the most prolific “conservative” in the race. If he manages to win in both Ohio and Tennessee the media will once again do a reset, and with a bunch of conservative states coming next on the calendar he could realistically mount another charge. Polling is suggesting that his support is going the wrong direction though, so this dream scenario might be just that, a dream. Of course I must briefly mention the disaster and “nuclear winter” scenarios, which are, Disaster: he leaves Super Tuesday with one victory (Oklahoma) narrowly loses to Romney in Tennessee and faces a severe delegate disadvantage going forward. Nuclear Winter Scenario 1: he loses in Ohio and Newt wins Tennessee (along with Georgia) shifting the momentum away from his candidacy. Hyper-Nuclear Winter: he loses in Ohio and he comes in third behind Gingrich, then Romney, in Tennessee and his candidacy is effectively over, as his Kansas support bolts to Gingrich and Romney, and he’ll lose Alabama and Mississippi on the following date. To be clear though, I do not think either disaster scenario plays out tonight. I think Santorum will lose Ohio narrowly but will win Tennessee narrowly and he’ll look to go full force in Kansas to pick up as many delegates as he can and try to make that case in Mississippi and Alabama.
Ron Paul will not have a very good Super Tuesday. There are just two caucus states, and one is Idaho, which has a huge Mormon population. The other is North Dakota, where Dr. Paul has the best chance of “doing something.” Regardless, Paul’s whole goal is to remain relevant by picking up delegates in every state. He can make the case that many states have put him second, ahead of Santorum and Gingrich and will be able to make that case in at least two states tonight. Still, it’s my belief that this candidacy is he and his wife’s version of RVing across the country and they won’t stop until they’ve gone to all 57 states. Viva Ron!
I saved Romney for last because he has the most to gain on Super Tuesday, but he does have some to lose as I’ve already mentioned. The best scenario for Romney is that he wins in Ohio, and scrambles out an improbable victory in Tennessee. Wins in both Ohio and Tennessee means he will have won 7 of the 10 states on Super Tuesday. Expect Massachusetts, Idaho, North Dakota, and Virginia to be called for Mitt shortly after their polls close, and expect Vermont to be called for him with about 15% or less of the vote in. He stands to pick up virtually all of the delegates in Massachusetts, Idaho, Virginia, and Vermont (those states have 158 delegates total). If Romney wins in Ohio, his case for being the eventual nominee is greatly strengthened because it would be two come-from-behind victories in key states. I don’t think the Romney camp really cares about a loss in Tennessee because it’s guaranteed to be narrow but if he loses Ohio, it will sting and the race will move on to an uncomfortable length where even I will start agreeing with most pundits that the race will become destructive to the GOP’s hopes of defeating the worst President in decades. Since Romney’s night boils down to Ohio and Tennessee, I will make predictions there. I think he wins in Ohio and narrowly finishes second in Tennessee behind Santorum. I’ll be less concerned with the media’s reaction to the Ohio win and more concerned about what voters in Mississippi and Alabama have to say in light of a potentially renewed Santorum-Gingrich fight with Mitt Romney’s inevitability factor swelling.
Coverage begins at 5 Central Time, and since I have no life, you can follow my commentary and the commentary of people I don’t hate, via Twitter @BrandonBohning.