Tonight — as readers of the NPI Advocate are no doubt aware — is Super Tuesday, traditionally the biggest (though not necessarily the most pivotal) night of the presidential nominating season, when more delegates are at stake than at any other point leading up to the national party conventions at the end of summer.
It’s been an entertaining evening so far, with some predictable moments (like Newt Gingrich’s victory in Georgia) but also the suspense of a close race in Ohio between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
More than a dozen states in every region of the country are up for grabs in tonight’s set of contests (though most are not winner-take-all). Each of the Republican candidates has at least one state in his win column, with the notable exception of Ron Paul, who hasn’t won anywhere yet.
Here is a breakdown of who is winning where.
First, let’s take a look at the states Mitt Romney has won, or is likely to win.
As we can see from the graphic to the left, he’s done well in New England and the Rocky Mountain West. He’s also winning easily in The Old Dominion (Virginia), though neither Rick Santorum nor Newt Gingrich were on the ballot there. And he appears to be on the cusp of a very narrow victory in Ohio, the Buckeye State, where Rick Santorum had hoped to pull off an upset.
So, not a bad night for Romney.
However, Romney is not doing so well in the South or the Midwest. There, his rivals have captured some important states.
Let’s take a look at Rick Santorum’s win column.
So far, it consists of North Dakota (which some pundits thought Ron Paul might win), Oklahoma, and Tennessee. It’s possible that Santorum will be able to pick up one more state before the night is over — Alaska, where the Republican caucuses are already underway.
Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, has prevailed in his home state of Georgia, but that’s the only place where he is winning tonight. The Georgia win might keep his campaign alive for a while, but it won’t secure the Republican nomination for him. Both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney have won three times as many states as Gingrich has. Even if Gingrich were to pick up a few more states in the south, it still wouldn’t net him the delegates he needs to get the nomination in Tampa.
As Talking Points Memo (TPM) notes, the only really close contest tonight has turned out to be Ohio, where Rick Santorum is still trying to catch up with Mitt Romney after relinquishing a slight lead he held for most of the evening.
After steadying his ship with a must-win victory in Michigan’s primary last week, Mitt Romney is in choppy waters in Ohio, narrowly leading Rick Santorum with over 90% of the vote in. A loss here would revive talk that Romney may be too damaged to lead the party in the general election despite an apparent burst of momentum in the polls in recent days.
But the big question is about narrative: will tonight be enough to put an end to a long primary slog that just about everyone agrees is hurting Romney who will, unless something incredible happens, be the Republican opponent for Obama in the fall? Romney, whose general poll numbers are at almost historically toxic levels for a frontrunning candidate, needs this primary to end — fast.
Santorum has arguably met or surpassed the Super Tuesday expectations that pundits and his own operatives laid out for his candidacy. He wasn’t on the ballot in Virginia, Massachusetts, or Vermont, so he didn’t have a chance there. He is running almost even with Mitt Romney in Ohio, and he captured three states outright, continuing his winning streak in the middle of the country.
But he still has a steep hill to climb. His biggest problem is that Newt Gingrich remains in the race. Had Gingrich quit prior to Super Tuesday, Santorum might have picked up Georgia, which would have been a nice boost for his campaign, and he’d be well-positioned to take Alabama, the next state on the calendar. Instead, he’s going to have to fight Gingrich on Gingrich’s home turf.
If Gingrich’s goal was to deny Mitt Romney the Republican nomination, he would have quit the race by now. But he foolishly thinks he can become the frontrunner once again if he stays in. Barring some truly improbable turn of events, that simply isn’t going to happen. The only thing Gingrich is going to accomplish by remaining a candidate will be to deny Rick Santorum the opportunity to pull even with Romney nationally — and thus give Romney the nomination.