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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Super Tuesday: What to Watch

Super Tuesday Preview: Part V
Part I (Standings, Schedule, Poll) here.
Part II (State-by-State Breakdown) here.
Part III (Ohio Primary Breakdown) here.
Part IV (Candidate-by-Candidate Breakdown here.

All right, here's my fifth and final preview of Super Tuesday, though surely I'll find reasons for an update or two tonight as the results come pouring in, so don't be a stranger.

For this final post, I want to focus on three things to watch for tonight. They are, in descending order of importance:

3. Does Santorum have anything left in the tank? There's a good chance that Rick Santorum does not win a state tonight. Not one. The only states where he claims leads--Tennessee and Oklahoma--are states where his leads were a lot bigger a week or two ago. Each are down to the single-digits, with Tennessee probably a three-way race now. If that trend continues, he'll lose both states. He's holding even in Ohio, but surely Romney has the momentum, and Santorum can't even win many of the Ohio delegates because of his campaign's faux pas.

If Santorum doesn't win any states, and his worst case realistic scenario comes to fruition, his campaign is over.

2. Can Gingrich steal Tennessee and limit Santorum in Ohio and Oklahoma? If so, Gingrich becomes the new "conservative alternative." He'll win more delegates than Santorum and retake second place in the delegate standings. The story will be that Santorum had his chance in a one-on-one and blew it. He's proven to be a poor fundraiser if he's not winning, and he has a propensity to shoot himself in the foot with comments as much as Romney does. Plus, you know the media would love to see Gingrich back on the front page, lobbing grenades at all comers.

If Santorum falls apart and Gingrich beats expectations, their positions will reverse on March 7.

1. THE BIG ONE: Can Romney win 50 percent of tonight's delegates? Don't forget, the overarching question of the 2012 Republican Primary is not who, if anyone, can catch Romney. None of them can. Rather, it's, "Can Romney get to 1,144 delegates?" If he doesn't, it's a brokered convention, which is the goal of all three of the other candidates. A brokered convention would be the proverbial Game 7--anything can happen. We cannot measure Romney's success tonight solely on his ability to distance his delegate count from Santorum; there is no scenario under which he will not. We will measure his success by his ability to win 50 percent or more of tonight's delegates. If Romney does not, all three opponents will press on, and Romney will have to continue to work to reach 1,144.

Let's apply some math. If we look at Real Clear Politics' delegate estimates, we see Romney has won 173 of the 317 delegates won thus far. That's 54.57 percent. (Despite only once winning more than 47 percent of the vote in a state (50.1 in Nevada), his pluralities in winner-take-all Florida and Arizona have pushed him to 55 percent of the delegates so far.) There are 1,969 delegates yet to be awarded by RCP. Romney needs to win 971 of those. That's 49.31 percent. If he falls a couple percentage points short of 50 percent of Super Tuesday's numerous delegates, that 49.31 will rise over 50 percent, and the day will be considered a loss. Then, when the primary moves south for the next two weeks, that number will grow even more. That's an opening a Santorum or Gingrich--depending on tonight's results--needs.

So watch tonight's coverage and keep those questions in mind. Check back in to see if I find any post-worthy updates.

Thanks for reading,

-IC

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