Bill Whalen

Super (Tuesday) Questions

Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who’s been off the political grid that past couple of weeks, you’re probably aware that tomorrow is “Super Tuesday” in American presidential politics – 10 states that will go to the polls in search of a Republican nominee, and in doing so might greatly re-shape the GOP race.

Here are five questions to ponder, heading into Tuesday’s vote:

1) Is “Super” the Right Adjective? Let’s be honest: “big” isn’t what it used to be in America. “Super-sized” portions at McDonald’s are less belt-busting than they used to be; “tall” is small at Starbucks. Tomorrow’s vote is no different. Four years ago, the Democrats one-upped the big-box tradition of a bunch of states voting at once with a “Tsunami Tuesday” of 23 primaries and caucuses (Barack Obama winning 13 states and territories to Hillary Clinton’s 10). 2012’s “Super Tuesday looks kind of steroids-free by comparison. Still, the stakes are high as they were in 2008. Only 10 states have voted to date. That number’s doubled as of tomorrow. The same goes delegates: 355 are off the table going into the March 6 vote; 437 are up for grabs on Super Tuesday alone (1,144 needed to win the nomination). What this amounts to: separation from the rest of the field, especially for Mitt Romney (currently at a little over 200 delegates), and a big step toward. However, should Romney flop tomorrow, “super” would be an apt choice to describe on muddle facing Republicans on Wednesday morning.

2) Is Ohio Really That import? Mitt Romney spent his Monday in the Ohio towns of Canton, Youngstown and Zanesville before returning home to vote in Massachusetts, a Super Tuesday state. Rick Santorum’s same-day itinerary included scheduled appearances in Dayton, Columbus and Cuyahoga Falls. Next question? Sure, the Buckeye State has fewer delegates than Georgia (66 vs. 76). But, as with Michigan, this is Santorum’s best (maybe his last) case for proving that he’s the strongest candidate to take the fight to disaffected Reagan Democrats. If Santorum loses in Ohio (polls show a neck-and-neck race, and a repeat of Michigan what with Romney again making a late surge), the next opportunitieswould seem to be March 20 in Illinois and April 3 in Wisconsin. But as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s weekend endorsement of Romney shows, the party might be over for Santorum by then.

3) Best chance of a surprise? Take Ohio out of the equation and most of the Super Tuesday states are, well, kind of super-dull. Romney runs strong in Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia (Santorum and Newt Gingrich didn’t qualify for the ballot) and Idaho (the state’s about a quarter Mormon). Gingrich is predicting a Georgia win, which the polls back up; Oklahoma should go to Santorum. The state that’s been flying under the radar: Tennessee, which is important in that it offers Romney the rare chance to win a southern state. Again, it’s the surge effect: Santorum’s done well with early Tennessee voters; Romney’s catching up among those planning to cast their ballots on Tuesday. Add Tennessee to Ohio, throw in the four safer states, and Romney has the kind of winning evening that not only transcends time zones but expectations.

4) And President Obama? If you think the President is pre-occupied with Iran and proving he’s a regular guy who likes sports, guess again: he too has been busy in the Super Tuesday states. Obama for America already has nine offices spread across the Buckeye State and is networking as it successfully did back in 2008. In Virginia, it’s the same story:volunteer sweat equity. Two trends that don’t bode well for Republicans looking forward to November: Obama’s approval rating in Virginia is now at 51% (it doesn’t hurt that statewide unemployment is running at 6.2%); though he gets only a 45% job approval in Ohio, Obama holds double-digit leads in hypothetical fall matchups – in a state (unlike the GOP) he can afford to lose.

5) After Super Tuesday, Can We Tune Out Until Tampa? On March 4, 2008, John McCain became the presumptive GOP nominee. John Kerry went over the top on March 11, 2004. In 2000, both George W. Bush and Al Gore secured their parties’ nominations after sweeping victories on March 14. And 2012? It may be a repeat of 2008’s Democratic side of the coin, when it took until June 3 for Obama to claim the requisite 2,118 delegates. After Tuesday’s vote, 353 delegates remain available for the month of March; only 329 will be allotted in all of April (with big votes on just the first and fourth Tuesdays of the month). That leads us to May and 276 delegates at stake in the first three Tuesdays of that month. In all, that’s 958 delegates over the course of 11 weeks. A glacial pace, for a party still looking to warm up to a frontrunner.

(photo credit: Sage Ross)

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