Super Tuesday: Five Things To Watch

A win in Ohio is key for Mitt Romney during the busiest primary day of the election season.

In a political grudge match some have compared to the back-and-forth between then-candidate Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton in 2008 for the Democratic presidential nomination, this year’s Super Tuesday showdown is being hyped as yet another make-or-break moment. Then again, the nose-smashing battle between the four remaining Republican nominee hopefuls has been a series of final chances, with more fake knockout blows and momentum changes than a Rocky Balboa fight.


In terms of delegates, Tuesday’s contest is the biggest potential pot of delegate gold to date, with voters in 10 states going to the polls and 419 delegates for grabs. Decisive wins in a majority of the contests could finally push former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney into the lead that he’s been looking for all along. A few strategic W’s for his fiercest current challenger, ex-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, though, could ensure the intraparty squabble continues through the spring. While Congressman Ron Paul is not in serious contention at this point, a big night for Romney could also once and for all banish serial comeback master Newt Gingrich.

Here are five things to look for on Super Tuesday:

Ohio
Yes, it is only the second-biggest prize of the day with 63 delegates. But as everyone likes to point out, no GOP nominee has ever made it to the White House without winning the Buckeye State. It is considered a microcosm of the nation, with areas that range from rural to densely populated urban cores in Cleveland and Cincinnati and from industry-heavy to rolling farmland. Ohio has actually seen a bit of an economic rebound, with an unemployment rate just below the national average, and Romney appeared to be closing the gap in the days before the vote. If he loses this key swing state, it could once again signal to the national party and to voters in later primaries that the verdict is still out on GOP voters’ #1 goal: ousting President Obama.

The bottom line: A come-from-behind win in Ohio could give Romney the bragging rights he’s been looking for.

Winning Big or Little
Romney has been chipping away at the 1,144 delegates needed to take this thing and currently has anywhere from 168 to 203, depending on who’s counting, with Santorum behind in the 86 to 92 range and Gingrich with just 29. The surest way to finally lock down his long-sought presumptive nominee tag is to post some convincing wins on Tuesday. Romney is on a five-in-a-row streak and is expected to easily pick up Massachusetts (41 delegates) and likely Virginia (49). But Gingrich could make one more surge in the state he once represented, Georgia, which has the day’s biggest count at 76. Romney might have to settle for second in the Bible Belt states of Tennessee and Oklahoma, where Santorum could win the lion’s share of the 94 delegates.

The bottom line: Because of the mix of states (Midwestern, southern, Northeastern and Northwestern), it’s practically impossible for anyone to run the board.

Social Issues
Ardent Catholic Santorum had been reliably picking up the Evangelical and conservative Christian vote. Recent comments in which Santorum lambasted President Kennedy’s landmark remarks on the importance of separation of church and state and a focus on social issues such as abortion in an election where the economy is issue #1 has become a problem for him. Santorum has also begun to turn off some of those core voters, and is losing an increasing share of female voters.

The bottom line: Santorum’s camp has claimed their candidate keeps getting goaded into discussions of social issues, but given the furor over Rush Limbaugh’s insulting, sexist birth control comments last week to law student Sandra Fluke now is not the time to be wading into the culture wars..

Proportions
The twist this year is that no one can run the board because all 10 states have variations on the proportional rules that award delegates based on factors that vary from statewide vote totals to results in congressional districts. The bad news for Santorum is that even if he wins Ohio, Romney will still likely scoop up the most delegates because the Santorum campaign failed to file a full delegate slate in half of the state’s congressional districts, including three in which he was a favorite.

The bottom line: If Santorum manages enough close second-place finishes, he could remain on Romney’s tail and keep the contributions coming in.

Is This It?
Though many in the party are still not entirely sold on Romney’s chances against Obama in the fall (nearly every major polling organization has the incumbent beating Romney), they are increasingly eager to see the smashmouth primary scramble end. The best they can hope for out of Tuesday is for Santorum to grab enough votes from Gingrich that the former House speaker runs out of lifelines and is forced to finally give up. But, Newt being Newt, it’s unlikely that he’ll go away even if Georgia is his only prize, as long as the SuperPac money keeps pouring in.

The bottom line: Santorum can only slow down the Romney Express by winning Oklahoma, Tennessee and stealing Georgia from Gingrich, and maybe by coming out on top in percentages in Ohio. But if he can’t win outside the Bible Belt and prove he can bring in voters who are not social conservatives, Romney may have his case made, even if he doesn’t win the night.

MTV has Super Tuesday covered, with reporters on the scene in Georgia, Ohio and Massachusetts! Check back for up-to-the-minute coverage on all the primaries, and stick with PowerOf12.org throughout the presidential election season.

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