Republicans in ten states will cast ballots today to express their preference for the Republican nominee to take on President Obama in the fall.
However due to a change in the rules in how delegates are awarded this cycle, it is not likely that the contest will be decided tomorrow. The RNC rules prohibit states hosting their primaries before April from awarding their delegates on a “winner take all basis.” Some states have gotten around this by hosting non-binding caucuses with a straw poll for Presidential preference or ignoring the rules altogether and accepting a penalty, taking around half their delegates (as with Florida and Arizona). Most of the states today will award their delegates proportionately.
As such, everyone is likely to pick up quite a few delegates today with a little over 400 total delegates up for grabs. However with 1,144 delegate needed to secure the nomination, no one will net enough to put the contest away. Romney goes into the day with the most delegates at around 200 (depending on how you count them), but even a perfect day for him will put him just slightly over 400, which is not even close to half the delegates needed to end the primary.
Nevertheless, here are some things to look for tonight:
- Romney is likely to win Massachusetts (where he was governor), Virginia (where he and Ron Paul are the only candidates on the ballot) as well as Vermont, North Dakota, and Idaho. This means at the end of the night, he likely will win the most states and net the most delegates.
- Gingrich should win his home state of Georgia likely by a commanding margin. With 76 delegates, Georgia has the most delegates of any Super Tuesday state meaning Newt will pick up quite a few. However, Newt will struggle to win any other state. He needs to pick up an upset win or at least cut it close in one other state. Tennessee is his best bet to do this with polls tightening in the last few days.
- Santorum was the last non-Romney candidate to surge and then falter. He needs to win Tennessee and Oklahoma to stay alive as the non-Romney conservative alternative. The bigger his margin over Gingrich, the better his case for this heading into the southern states voting later in March.
- Paul’s best chance to pick up a win is in the Alaska caucus, which will meet in district conventions today. There is little polling data there and it really could go anyway without surprising anyone. But Paul has not yet won a state and could really use the boost there. However, it should be noted that Paul will continue to steadily pick up delegates as part of his libertarian movement within the primary itself.
- Ohio, Ohio, Ohio – whoever wins Ohio today will claim victory for Super Tuesday. It is often considered the bellwether state for the country and it is the most competitive state by far. Santorum had a wide lead only weeks ago, but now it is basically tied and Romney comes in with a lot of momentum. Odds are he wins here, but who knows.
- Looking ahead, the rest of March offers a big opening for either Santorum or Gingrich to bounce back. Kansas votes on Saturday (3/10) followed by Mississippi and Alabama next Tuesday (3/13), the Missouri caucus the following Saturday, and then Louisiana after that. The best case for Romney is if both Santorum and Gingrich stay in and split the vote. If either drops out or if conservative support builds behind either one, then the rest of March will be a long one from Romney.
- Does it make it to Arkansas with the nomination undecided? This is becoming more and more likely. Around 900 delegates will be divided up between Super Tuesday and May 22 when Arkansas votes. Romney likely will have the most delegates after tomorrow at just over 400. That means he would have to win over two-thirds of all the delegates to wrap it up before Arkansas. The only way this happens is if both Santorum and Gingrich drop out, and I honestly don’t see that happening.