The Super Tuesday primaries are supposed to provide the boost to ensure that each party has a nominee locked in a ready to go into the November general election refreshed and with party united behind them. Even in hotly contested campaigns Super Tuesday is supposed to give a frontrunner an edge going into the last months of the primary season. It is designed to bring unity to a party, at least in what the party believes even if it differs on its candidate.
That is not the case this year. Though results are still filtering in at the moment Mitt Romney has won as expected in Virginia, Massachusetts, Vermont and Idaho. Newt Gingrich has won Georgia and Rick Santorum has won Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota.
Several states are still in the balance with the big prize being Ohio which Santorum and Romney are running in a dead heat. Ohio is so close and has such a history of big counties taking a long time to count it may not be known who has won the state until tomorrow. If the margin is under .25% an automatic recount will be triggered. Ohio was supposed to be a Romney win and when Rick Santorum began to surge Romney and his PACs dumped massive amounts of money, somewhere close to 12 million dollars in advertising to beat Santorum down. This is not good for Romney even if he gets a narrow win. Yes a win is a win but sometimes a win doesn’t amount to much especially if a recount is triggered.
The states that Romney has won so far are states that he had no possibility of losing. Massachusetts and Vermont, Romney is the home team. In Virginia his two strongest competitors were not on the ballot making it a race between him and Ron Paul. Idaho which has a strong LDS population was also an easy win for Romney. However Romney was trounced in Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota. The three southern states do matter, any Republican nominee has to win the south. Romney is not liked in the south, he has a number of things that cause him to be less than popular in the Republican Bible Belt. His religion is part of it, many conservative Christians, both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics believe that the Mormon Church is a cult. Romney also has to deal with the fact that he doesn’t come across as genuine. He comes across as a entitled flip flopping New England moderate who cannot connect with real people, note his comments about NASCAR. The fact is that in many Republicans in other parts of the country believe the same thing.
Next week the campaign turns to the south where Alabama and Mississippi await Romney. I have not seen recent polling data for either state but would expect that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will poll very well and that Romney may even run third in both primaries. Kansas has its caucuses on Saturday and with that state’s history in the abortion wars that Rick Santorum should do very well with the GOP base. Other states that Romney could struggle in include Louisiana and the only state that really looks positive in the coming month for Romney is Illinois.
As I said there are still states hanging tonight but it is very apparent that Romney’s money and organization is the only thing keeping him in the game. Romney is still in the best position to take the nomination but he if he gets it will be the nominee of a fractured party whose base does not like him. That is not a winning formula to beat an incumbent President no matter how bad that President’s numbers look.
My prediction, all four candidates remain in the race and Romney continues to take a beating from the conservative base. This will remain a long, drawn out and bloody campaign. Romney will have to spent far more money than he ever had planned to secure the nomination and may lose the support of Republican party elders if he cannot seal the deal soon. Gingrich will remain in at least for a while but Santorum allies may try to pressure Gingrich through the Tea Party to leave the race in order to make Santorum the sole conservative standard bearer against Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.
It certainly makes for an interesting election season.