Super Tuesday to Decide Primary…Or Not

Of the ten states voting on March 6, or Super Tuesday, only a handful are expected to be contended closely. For GOP presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul, each of the states and their respective delegates represent a chance to bolster front-runner reputations or argue for campaigns to continue. A Super Tuesday snapshot shows that some candidates may have more to lose than gain.

Some of the states are easily predicted; Vermont and Massachusetts are Romney-land, for instance, and the former Massachusetts governor should win easily in both. Likewise, the other candidates have basically ceded Virginia to Romney. Idaho, with a healthy Mormon population, looks like a Romney state as well.

More intriguing are Oklahoma and Tennessee. With 101 delegates between them, the two Southern states have plenty of conservative “values voters.” These are the voters that helped Rick Santorum to his recent surge in the polls. For Romney, the question will be whether Oklahoma and Tennessee look more like Florida (where Romney won) or like South Carolina (where he lost). If Santorum wins both states, murmurs about Romney’s lack of appeal in the South could turn into shouts, instead.

Georgia is fascinating for what it means to Newt Gingrich. Should Gingrich’s home state not vote him to the top of the state’s primary contest, Newt’s campaign would be all but over. If Gingrich wins the state, then the narrative turns to who comes in second, and by how much; again, Romney’s lack of appeal in the South may come into play.

Much has been made in the media of this protracted Republican nominating contest, with pundits arguing that with each passing week, an undecided GOP electorate only helps Barack Obama’s reelection chances. But let’s say Romney wins the states he’s expected to win, while Santorum cruises in the Southern states and squeaks out a victory in hotly-contested Ohio. Gingrich would be out of the race, leaving conservatives with one option instead of two. Yet the lack of consensus would drag on.

Even as Super Tuesday looms, there seems to be a theme emerging. That theme is basically a regional popularity contest, with Midwestern states like Ohio and Wisconsin (which votes April 3) to be the deciding factors in this long, strange GOP trip.

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