Super Tuesday: Keep an eye on Ohio

By Luke Freedman in Sydney, Australia

5 March 2012

The flags of the USA and Ohio

Fewer than half the number of states are holding Super Tuesday elections as compared to 2008, but that does not mean that this year’s contest will be small or insignificant. On March 6, ten states will hold primaries or caucuses and "more delegates will be awarded than in in the first two months of the Republican presidential race combined." Here's what to expect on the biggest day of the election so far.

Mitt Romney has now won four states in a row, and is looking to try and carry this momentum into Super Tuesday. Romney will win easily in Massachusetts (where he served as governor) and Virginia (where only he and Ron Paul collected enough valid signatures to even appear on the ballot). Along with these two important prizes, Romney should pick up Vermont as well.

Out west, Romney has a very good chance of winning in North Dakota, Idaho, and Alaska. However, these small caucus states could also be prime Ron Paul territory. Paul may not appeal to a broad segment of the electorate, but he does have a fervent base of supporters. Less than 14,000 Alaskans showed up for the 2008 Republican caucus, and a small but committed group of Paul devotees could flip the state in his favour. Still, the delegate count in these three states is not large enough to substantially affect the outcome of the primary process.

Standing between Romney and a Super Tuesday blowout is the South. Rick Santorum should pick up the most delegates in Oklahoma and probably Tennessee as well. Gingrich (yes, he's still in the race) is the heavy favourite in his home state of Georgia. It's unlikely that Romney will win any of these three states, but keep an eye on the results nonetheless. A narrow win in Tennessee or even a close second place showing in Oklahoma could be evidence that Romney’s re-established himself as the clear frontrunner.

That leaves one final state to discuss: Ohio. Ohio is without a doubt the crown jewel of Super Tuesday. It has the second most delegates of the day after Georgia, but its significance is more intangible. Two very different narratives could emerge out of Super Tuesday depending on who claims the Buckeye State. It's often remarked that the road to the White House runs through the Midwest, and so far Santorum has outperformed Romney in the Midwestern states. A win in Ohio, probably the most important state in the general election, would allow Santorum to reassert his message that he's the candidate best equipped to win in these key swing states.

On the other hand, if Romney wins there on Tuesday, the entire script changes. If he can't carry a state like Ohio, it will become much harder for Santorum to sell himself as the populist alternative to Romney. A Romney victory would be an important first step in repairing his image amongst middle class blue-collar voters.

At this point, the race between Romney and Santorum in Ohio is too close to call. Nate Silver's election model currently gives Santorum a 57 per cent chance of winning. However, as I mentioned the other day, Santorum's polling advantage in the state has been steadily declining over the last several weeks. Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball goes so far as to declare Romney the favourite in Ohio. As they correctly note, the Romney campaign has done very well in the few days before previous primaries by effectively utilising its organisational and monetary advantages. Santorum’s lead looks much more tenuous when you consider the final wave of Romney ads that are hitting the airwaves in Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Still, even if Romney performs exceptionally well on Tuesday, the proportional system of delegate allocation makes it all but impossible for him to pull too far away from Santorum. Super Tuesday will greatly influence the trajectory of the race, but it won’t decide it altogether.

Tags: Delegate Count, Election 2012, Georgia, Massachusetts, Newt Gingrich, Ohio, Republican Party, Republican Primary 2012, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Super Tuesday, Tennessee

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