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Monday, March 05, 2012

The Ohio Primary: Santorum's Last Stand?

Super Tuesday Preview: Part III
Part I (Standings, Schedule, Poll) here.
Part II (State-by-State breakdown) here.

We're now under 24 hours from our first Super Tuesday results. For Part III of my preview, I'd like to unpack the importance of the Ohio Primary. Please read Part II for a transition into it. In short, I established that of the other 371 Super Tuesday delegates, Mitt Romney will win around 185, give or take. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich will each break 70, with Santorum threatening 80. Ron Paul will hover around 30.

In terms of state victories, we have:
Romney: 3 (Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia)
Leaning Romney: Idaho Caucus
Gingrich: 1 (Georgia)
Barely Leaning Santorum: Tennessee, Oklahoma
Too close to call: The Alaska and North Dakota caucuses (Romney, Paul, and Santorum each have a shot)

All that remains, then, is Ohio and its 66 delegates. How important is the Buckeye State? Look at these two scenarios:

Scenario 1) Santorum wins Ohio. If he can hold onto Tennessee and Oklahoma while winning one of the three caucus states, he would have won four of the ten Super Tuesday states. Furthermore, Romney would be denied a majority of the states. Santorum can then claim a near-split, and if Romney only won four states (we'd be giving Paul a caucus), Santorum can claim to have won just as many states as Romney, including three of the biggest five (with Romney only winning one of them--Virginia--a state where Santorum and Gingrich were not even on the ballot). Moreover, if all Part II's projections hold close to accurate, a Santorum win would ensure Romney does not win 50 percent of Super Tuesday's delegates, which would further reinforce Romney's inability to win over the party, despite having more money, better organization, and four straight states worth of momentum.

A final bonus for Santorum under this scenario is that with Gingrich winning only one state and Santorum proving he can stand toe-to-toe nationally with Romney, Gingrich might drop out. Then, Santorum would get the Speaker's endorsement, money, and future votes. Santorum and Paul could combine for 55 to 60 percent of the delegates the rest of the way, which would deny Romney an overall majority and give us a brokered convention.

But then there's...

Scenario 2) Romney wins Ohio. In all likelihood, therefore, Romney wins five or six states, while denying Santorum a fourth. Santorum would have no claims to a victory on the day. Romney would have won a clear victory in state total, including two of the biggest four (with Santorum only winning one of them), and, more importantly, he would have won a clear majority of delegates on the day. He would pull further away from Santorum in every category imaginable, including momentum and fundraising, and might ultimately wake up on March 7 with twice as many delegates as all the other candidates combined. Enormous pressure would be on Santorum to concede and rally behind Romney, and perhaps such a move, done early enough, could land him on the ticket in November. The primary would be over within a week, ten days on the outside (after Romney wins some more to put Santorum away).

Those are two extraordinarily different fallouts. Truth be told, there's innumerable scenarios in between, but it's Ohio that determines which path we more closely follow.

So yeah, I'd say Ohio's important.

And in this bonus scenario for Newt Gingrich, we not only see another way an Ohio loss could derail the Santorum train, but how a Santorum derailment frees up the track for the Gingrich engine.

Scenario 2-bonus) Romney wins Ohio. Santorum licks his wounds having fumbled his chance at the nomination. Meanwhile, Gingrich has won Georgia, Super Tuesday's biggest contest, and he made huge gains in Tennessee. Several southern states lie on the immediate horizon, with Texas waiting a bit further. Can the anti-Romney base of the Republican Party, disappointed that Santorum didn't have what it takes, then go back to Gingrich for a third time and make him the latest and last "Nonmey," but this time it's a political heavyweight that can stand up "mano a mano" with Romney, unlike Santorum's self-destruction?

Just sayin'. "Gingrich wins biggest state, Santorum loses second biggest." That could be the spin.

So who's going to win Ohio? What scenario will unfold? It's deliciously too close to call. In fact, the Real Clear Politics average, which averages the numbers of the last handful of relevant polls from across the polling services, has Romney with a lead of a tenth of a percentage point! Here's how close each of those polls see the Ohio race:


Ohio Primary Polls
Rasmussen Reports, 3/4 - 3/4
Santorum--32
Romney--31

WeAskAmerica, 3/4 - 3/4
Romney--32
Santorum--28
Gingrich--24 (Interesting...)

PPP (D), 3/3 - 3/4
Romney--37
Santorum--36

Suffolk, 3/3 - 3/4
Santorum--37
Romney--33

Quinnipiac, 3/2 - 3/4
Romney--34
Santorum--31

CNN/Opinion Research, 3/1 - 3/4
Santorum--32
Romney--32

NBC News/Marist, 2/29 - 3/2
Santorum--34
Romney--32

Of these seven polls, Santorum leads three, Romney leads three, and they're tied in one. The average, again, is a 0.1 lead for Romney. That, my friends, is the very definition of too close too call. Ultimatlely, Romney will win more delegates, thanks to the Santorum Campaign's delegate blunder.

But even in the popular vote, I'm calling Romney. Momentum rules.

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