As we near SuperTuesday, it’s probably worth it to clear up several misconceptions that have crept into the media coverage and blogosphere in recent days.
The Ohio Primary is the most important contest on SuperTuesday. No, Georgia is – thanks to the 21 bonus delegates it has been awarded, there are 76 delegates up for grab there on Tuesday, compared to 63 in Ohio (in addition to three unpledged delegates there). What the journalists mean when they say Ohio is most important is that they don’t know who is going to win there. That makes Ohio intrinsically a more interesting news story. Some reporters, of course, fall back on the “Ohio will be a key swing state in the general election while Georgia will go Republican” defense. That’s true – but President Obama is not on the ballot this Tuesday in Ohio. Right now the focus is on winning delegates for the Republican nomination. Based on this criterion, while Ohio is big, Georgia is substantively bigger.
And, even using the media criteria of uncertainty and newsworthiness, there’s a lot to be said about Georgia’s capacity to surprise. To begin, 42 of the state’s delegates are awarded – three each – based on how candidates do in each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts. If Gingrich can clear 50% in any of these districts, he gets all three delegates. At the very least he’s likely to get 2 of the 3 delegates if he receives a plurality in each district, with the runner up getting the remaining delegate. So it’s quite possible Rick Santorum, based on current polling, might get shut out of some of these districts. Similarly, Santorum and Romney must clear 20% of the statewide popular vote to compete for the remaining 31 at large delegates. So there a great deal at stake in Georgia – and not a little uncertainty when it comes to delegate counts. (Note as well that Georgia’s three party delegates are pledged to the overall state winner, while Ohio’s are not. Also note that formally speaking, Ohio delegates are morally bound to the presidential candidate who wins them – but only morally bound.)
SuperTuesday Will Reshape the Republican Race. In fact, it almost certainly will not. The most likely outcome is that the current pecking order, as measured by delegate strength and popular votes among the four candidates, is not likely to change after the results in Tuesday’s ten contests are tabulated. Nor are any of the four candidates likely to drop out. By any objective standard, then, SuperTuesday will likely not reshape the race; Romney will remain the frontrunner, and the odds on favorite to win the nomination.
The Republicans Establishment is Closing Ranks Behind Romney. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. On the heels of today’s endorsements of Romney by Eric Cantor and Tom Coburn, the “closing ranks” theme has once again been resurrected by the talking heads. Are today’s endorsements really news? According to the ongoing tally listed at TheHill website, Romney has been running away with the endorsement race since before January. We don’t need two more to convince us that the “Party Establishment” wants Romney to win. Remember when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie endorsed Mitt way back in October? It was, CNN reported, “another sign Romney, the GOP front-runner, is consolidating support among establishment Republicans who believe he is the party’s best chance to win back the White House.” But wait. There’s more! We heard that they were closing ranks after New Hampshire – and Romney got crushed in South Carolina. We heard they were closing ranks after Florida – and Santorum pulled off the trifecta. Forgive me if I don’t get overly excited over two more endorsements. I suppose at some point the “Party Decides” crowd can claim victory. But it is going to ring pretty hollow, given events to date.
This race is just like 2008. Keep in mind that the Republican race was essentially finished after the first week in February in 2008, when Romney dropped out after a disappointing SuperTuesday. (Rudy Giuliani‘s candidacy essentially ended the week before in Florida). By the time SuperTuesday was over in 2008 more than half the Republican delegates had been awarded. Although Mike Huckabee stuck around, the delegate math was impossible for him to overcome and he formally quit by the first week in March. Nothing like that outcome is likely to happen after this SuperTuesday. For starters, when the day is done next Tuesday only 36% of the delegates will have been allocated (and that is a generous count because it includes caucus results where no delegates have actually been selected). The odds may favor Romney, but his situation is simply not analogous to McCain’s in 2008. The dynamics of the race are so different as to render comparisons less than helpful.
There you are. Hope that clears up matters. I’ll be on tomorrow with a polling overview.