Four years ago, the GOP primary race was effectively over at this stage of the campaign. In 2012, it’s not even half way there.
In 2008, Senator John McCain swept the 21 Super Tuesday states, winning most of the delegates and effectively locking down the nomination. This year, the biggest date in the primary calendar is unlikely to shift either the narrative or the outcome of the race. In contrast to four years ago, not only will half the number of states be voting, but the majority of them will proportionally divide the delegates. With only 662 delegates currently pledged (last time round, we had 1,068 pledged at this point) out of the 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination, this year's Super Tuesday was only additional confirmation that the Republican nomination process is likely to stretch throughout the spring.
Although Super Tuesday is unlikely to be a gamer-changer, there are still key points that can be drawn from the 10 contest that we saw play out:
Ohio – Romney – Ohio was the race to watch tonight. As a classic swing state, it was poised to be a real vote of confidence in the victor, making it the big prize of an otherwise inconclusive Super Tuesday. Although it did not distribute the most delegates tonight (Georgia has 10 more delegates), there is incredible symbolism for the state as a general election bell-weather, and as a test for the candidates in a state with diverse Republican support (within the state, there is a mix of small town and rural conservatives, to wealthier moderates). Romney’s win here keeps him on his path towards capturing the GOP nomination – although his victory is to be taken into account with the knowledge that his campaign and affiliated Super PACs outspent those of Santorum 4-to-1.
Tennessee – Santorum – As one of the battlegrounds for the Romney-Santorum showdown, Tennessee was a virtual tie going into Super Tuesday. However, given the conservative nature of the state, a Romney win would have been a critical upset in the race. Wins in the conservative states of Tennessee and Oklahoma would have indicated a growing support in the base for Romney, which he could have used to boost his conservative credentials. However, Romney support (28%) has increased from the 24% he received in 2008. The Santorum win, both here and in Oklahoma, creates a good platform for the former Pennsylvanian Senator to indicate his potential for support on the national stage and his ability to ignite the base of the party in the lead up to the general election.
Oklahoma – Santorum – Another test state of conservatism, Santorum won Oklahoma having been ahead in the polls in the days leading up to the primary. As in Tennessee, Romney would have benefited from a win in the South, but his share of the vote (28.1%, ahead of Gingrich) is at least an indication he has a relatively significant portion of support in these states key to the Republicans in the general election.
STATUS QUO with KEY MOMENTS
Georgia – Gingrich – Gingrich said on Sunday that a win in Georgia would be “central to the future of [his] campaign, and it was critical for Gingrich to win the state that he had represented in Congress for 20 years in order to retain any thread of feasibility in this race. With around a 48% share of the vote in a 4-person race (though nowhere near the vote-share the Romney got in his home state of Massachusetts), it was a good showing for the former speaker, and an indication of support that the candidate needed in order to justify going forward.
Virginia – Romney – With only Ron Paul and Romney contesting, it is not surprising that Romney won with over 50% of the vote, meaning that he qualified for the winner-takes-all condition of the state's delegate distribution. Polling suggest that, had Santorum competed, there would have been a much tighter race.
Vermont – Romney – There was a limited amount of focus on the state in the lead up to March 6. Although the possibility had been discussed of Romney reaching the 50% threshold required for winner-takes-all, Paul and Santorum both had a good showing and Romney ended up with 25.4% and 23.7% of the vote.
Massachusetts – Romney – The former Governor pulled off an unsurprising big win in his home state. Before the primary, CNN suggested that a strong result for Romney would be 2/3 of the vote; his final tally of 72% indicates the strength of his support in the less conservative state of Massachusetts. Interesting, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, and “no preference” also made appearances on the ballot tonight.
Idaho – Romney – With a projection that Mormon voters could exceed 30% of the caucus vote, a strong win for Mitt Romney was not surprising, even after he began ads late and Paul brought his fists out against the former Governor as part of his caucus-centric strategy.
North Dakota – Santorum – North Dakota, where there has been every little polling, started the night up for grabs. Yet the connections of the Romney state campaign to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline may have helped contribute to the Santorum victory. Interestingly, the Romney campaign is not counting the North Dakota delegates in its official tally for the evening due to the non-binding nature of the delegates. They certainly will not be reversing on this decision in the aftermath of tonight’s results.
Alaska – Romney – Romney won the Alaska by a close margin, with 32% of the vote compared to Rick Santorum's 29%. Romney also won the Alaska Caucus in 2008. This comes as a disappointment to the Paul campaign, which invested resources there in order to compete. Although she had not officially endorsed a candidate, 2008’s GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has voiced support in the past for Gingrich, and rumors on Twitter have emerged that she voted for him last night.
In the aftermath of Super Tuesday, nothing has really changed since before the usually-watershed day. Romney still leads in delegates, and with proportional distribution, no candidate experienced a surge in their vote tallies. No candidate is likely to move out of Super Tuesday with a wave of momentum – while no one had an awful showing, the 10 races lacked any game-shifting moments that had the potential to upset the current balance of power. The stakes were, and still are, highest for Gingrich, who has key questions to answer about the future of his campaign, regardless of his win in his home state.
Romney would have gained conservative legitimacy had he won any of Georgia, Tennessee, or Oklahoma. Having not performed spectacularly there, there are still serious questions about his ability to ignite the party and offer comfort and security to the base. However, his win in Ohio certainly means he leaves Super Tuesday ahead in the Republican field.
With scattered primaries throughout March and into April, the GOP primary is in for the long haul. It may even take until the 169 delegates of California, distributed on June 5, or the primary in Utah on the 26th of that month, to finally crown the nominee and begin the uphill battle of uniting the party before the November election.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore