The Chase 2012

Playbook for Super Tuesday: What to look for in presidential contests in five key states

Outcomes of primary and caucus voting in five States Tuesday – Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, and Oklahoma – will determine the near-term prospects of presidential candidates going forward, and will shape the storylines emerging from Super Tuesday. Here is what is at stake for in these states and the best and worst scenarios for each of the candidates coming out of Super Tuesday.

STATES

Ohio

The Storyline

Various polls have either Santorum or Romney leading in Ohio. The RealClearPolitics average of polls has Romney and Santorum tied at 33 percent. Both Romney and Santorum need to win Ohio to win the narrative battle out of Super Tuesday, and Romney is in a good position because he has been steadily moving up in the polls in Ohio the last week.

What to look for

It is even more important for Santorum to win the popular vote because he did not file full delegate slates in many of Ohio’s congressional districts, even in some districts that are favorable to him, leaving him ineligible for about 18 of Ohio’s 66 delegates. But even if Santorum wins the popular vote, the win may be lessened by the unforced error that could result in his not receiving as many delegates as his vote total should have given him. In addition, Ohio’s turnout numbers will be important. As a vital swing state in the general election, Republicans need all the enthusiasm they can get. Voters in Ohio are dissatisfied with Obama but may not be as enthusiastic about the GOP field of candidates, which is why low turnout numbers could be a bad omen for Republicans in the fall.

Virginia

The storyline

Virginia’s primary may be emblematic of how disorganized the other campaigns have been and when their “making-up-as-you-go-along” style of campaigning finally catches up to them. Had Messrs. Santorum and Gingrich made the Virginia ballot, Virginia may have been the marquee Super Tuesday state, given the importance of the state in the general election. In addition, because Santorum and Gingrich did not get on the ballot, Romney was able to focus his resources on Ohio and Tennessee and even Georgia. In the end, Virginia may end up giving Romney a lot more than its 49 delegates.

What to look for

According to a Marist Poll, Romney leads with 69 percent of the vote. Ron Paul gets 26 percent. Of course, Gingrich and Santorum failed to qualify for the ballot, with the latter not even attempting to get on the ballot. The key number is 50 percent. If Romney gets more than 50 percent of the vote, he will win all of the state’s 13 delegates based on the statewide vote. Romney, who is likely to win each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts, may end up getting all of the state’s delegates if he gets over 50 percent of the statewide vote.

Tennessee

The storyline

In earlier primary states, Romney was aided by voters who voted for him early. In Tennessee, this same dynamic may help Santorum. According to a Public Policy Polling survey, 25 percent of Republicans in Tennessee have already voted, and Santorum leads among those voters by seven points over Romney. On the other hand, among voters who will vote on Super Tuesday, Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney are all within the margin of error, with Romney leading Santorum among those who have decided within the last week while Santorum maintains his double digit lead among Evangelical voters.

What to look for

A loss in Tennessee will be damaging for Santorum. A win by Romney may be a feather in his cap Tuesday. A strong finish by Gingrich may help him with his “comeback kid” narrative.

Oklahoma

The storyline

All of Oklahoma’s counties voted against Obama and for John McCain in the 2008 election, so a comfortable win by Santorum may allow him to argue and cement the belief that he is the choice of the most conservative voters.

What to look for

According to an American Research Group poll, Santorum leads Romney, 37 percent to 26 percent. Gingrich comes in at 22 percent. If Gingrich can surge ahead of Romney and close the gap with Santorum, he may be able to spin his result positively going into next week’s contests in the South.

Georgia

The storyline

Gingrich has what seems to be an insurmountable lead in the polls; Gingrich will have to use what seems like a sure victory in Georgia to re-launch his campaign and ensure the victory does not get crowded out by the night’s other storylines.

What to look for

Can Romney and Santorum get more than 20 percent of the vote so they can get a proportional share of the state’s 31 delegates that are awarded based on the statewide vote?

CANDIDATES

Mitt Romney

Best scenario

Romney wins Ohio and Tennessee en route to a majority of the delegates while Gingrich does strongly in Georgia and Santorum does strongly in Oklahoma to give both candidates a rationale to go forward and split the anti-Romney vote.

Worst scenario

Romney loses Ohio and Tennessee and does not a get a majority of the delegates, which would prolong the GOP primary race and further weaken his candidacy for the general election.

Rick Santorum

Best scenario

Santorum wins Ohio, Tennessee, and Oklahoma while Gingrich falters badly, making Santorum the last non-Paul, anti-Romney candidate standing in the race.

Worst scenario

Santorum loses Ohio and Tennessee, does not capture more than 20 percent of the vote in Georgia, underperforms in Oklahoma and the media starts dogging him with questions about whether there is any point for him to remain in the race.

Newt Gingrich

Best scenario

Gingrich’s best-case scenario would be to win Georgia by a substantial margin while neither Romney nor Santorum get more than 20 percent of the statewide vote, which a candidate needs to get in order to receive a proportion of the 31 delegates that are awarded based on the statewide vote. In addition, Gingrich would have to close the gap in Tennessee and Oklahoma to allow him to give his version of a “comeback kid” speech and effectively restart his campaign on Super Tuesday as the campaign heads into territory — Kansas, Alabama, Mississippi — that is more favorable to him. A Santorum implosion would also help Gingrich.

Worst scenario

Gingrich somehow loses Georgia. If that happens, he has no rationale for going forward. In addition, if Santorum sweeps Ohio, Tennessee, and Oklahoma, his momentum will again blunt Gingrich’s attempts to revive his campaign, which has focused on a variety of ideas — energy being the latest — to revive the country’s economy and revive Americanism and citizenship.

Ron Paul

Best scenario

Paul wins caucuses in North Dakota and Alaska and allows him to collect more delegates going forward that he can use as bargaining chips — perhaps for his son, Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul — at the Republican National Convention.

Worst scenario

Paul does not win one of the caucus states and the mainstream media begins to ask how he can warrant the coverage he has recently received considering he has not won a single state to date. Paul has been a strong and consistently substantive voice for fiscal conservatism and  a more realistic foreign policy, but, like with Anna Kournikova (who was a much better tennis player than she was caricatured as for having never won a tennis tournament in singles), it is difficult to escape from the “you have not won anything” meme that may start.

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