On Tuesday, Republican voters from 10 states will take to the polling booths. They will decide whether to establish Mitt Romney as the nominee or drag out the nomination process for several more months. This comes at a time when President Obama has benefited from the bickering between Romney and Rick Santorum and has seen his approval ratings improve after marginal improvements in the economy. Media and voter attention has swung back towards the president as the performance of economic, energy, and national security policies seem positive. The pivotal day may yet prove to be another indecisive contest which does little to clarify the race, allowing President Obama to benefit from all the publicity and scrutiny the GOP candidates will receive.
Of the 10 states up for grabs on Tuesday, only Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia figure to be contentious. Mitt Romney has essentially assured himself of victories in Massachusetts, his home state and a liberal haven, and Virginia, where both Santorum and Gingrich failed to get on the ballot. He likewise figures to score a victory in Vermont and compete for delegates in less meaningful contests in Idaho, North Dakota, and Alaska. With wins in Massachusetts, Virginia, and Vermont, Romney will still be well ahead of the rest of the field in the delegate count after Tuesday. Romney is also heavily favored to win two winner-take-all primaries in June, California (with a whopping 172 delegates) and Utah (40 delegates). As a result, his campaign can sense that it is only one or two contentious victories away from securing the nomination, making Super Tuesday all the more important.
Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are in survival mode, although Rep. Paul does not seem too worried at the moment. He only plans to compete in more realistic caucuses in Alaska, North Dakota, and Idaho, where he might win his first state. Gingrich has conceded that his campaign will take a major blow should he lose in his home state of Georgia. However, it appears more likely that a loss would end his candidacy, as he has not been able to capture any momentum since his win in South Carolina.
Gingrich essentially faces a do-or-die situation in Georgia, while Paul will probably continue to truck on and carry the libertarian banner regardless of the results.
Meanwhile Rick Santorum holds sizeable leads in Oklahoma and Tennessee, and a slim margin in Ohio. His campaign hopes to win all three states, demonstrating that the former Pennsylvania Senator is strong in the conservative south, and can relate to blue collar swing voters in the Midwest. He has tried to create a clear contrast between himself and Mitt Romney by focusing on the social issues, such as vocalizing his far right stance on contraceptive policy.
At the end of the day, Ohio and Tennessee are the states that will matter most on Tuesday. It is already well known that Mitt Romney will come out ahead in the overall count; the question is whether he can erode Mr. Santorum’s lead in Ohio, and possibly pull off an upset in Tennessee. More importantly, it will serve as a litmus test in determining Romney’s viability as the GOP candidate.
Romney will need the support of conservatives and working class Americans, in addition to his moderate base, in order to defeat Obama in the fall. It should also be noted that Romney plans to outspend his rivals five to one in Ohio, as he did to win in Florida.With millions more in donations, this gives Romney a significant spending advantage over his Republican counterparts. Ultimately, a win for Romney in Ohio or Tennessee will signal his nomination and spark a new round of political jabbing; this time, with the President of the United States.