This week’s Super Tuesday contests could prove to be the turning point for the Republican nomination for president. Voters go to the polls in 10 states, with 437 delegates up for the taking. There’s still a long way to go with 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination, but a good Super Tuesday showing can propel a campaign toward the finish line. With five straight wins, Mitt Romney has taken the momentum away from Rick Santorum, but - at this point - anyone could still come out on top.
One of the most important prizes is Ohio. No Republican in history has even been elected president without winning Ohio in November, so faring well in the Buckeye State primary can foreshadow how the general election may turn. Given that winning this state is essential for the GOP, it wouldn’t be promising if the eventual nominee were unpopular there.
A week ago, Mr. Santorum was up 7 points in Ohio. After a series of victories, however, Mr. Romney has rallied and is in the pole position again. According to a new Quinnipiac University poll, the former Massachusetts governor leads the former Pennsylvania senator 34 percent to 31 percent. The same dynamic played out on Feb. 28 in neighboring Michigan, where Mr. Santorum was ahead a week out before Mr. Romney surged, winning his boyhood home state by 3 points.
To date, none of the runners have broken away from the pack in the race for delegates. Mr. Romney leads with 203 delegates to Mr. Santorum’s 92, with Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich running behind with 25 and 33 delegates respectively. A windfall on Tuesday could put anybody up front. There are 63 delegates up for grabs in Ohio alone. The other Super Tuesday states are Virginia, Vermont, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Georgia, Alaska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Idaho. Massachusetts and bordering Vermont are easy pickups for the former governor of the Bay State. Virginia should be too, considering that neither Mr. Gingrich nor Mr. Santorum made it onto the ballot there despite both living in the commonwealth.
Perhaps Mr. Romney’s biggest advantage is that his opposition is divided. There is some lingering discontent among the party base that the frontrunner isn’t conservative enough, but the various factions can’t unify behind a single alternative. In this way, the race can be seen as Mr. Romney versus the other three, with Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Paul and Mr. Santorum helping Mr. Romney win primaries and caucuses by splitting up the “anybody but Romney” vote. Speeding up the process isn’t a bad thing for the GOP because the sooner this divisive intraparty fight is over the better. Elephants need to redirect their rhetorical fire from one another and start aiming it at the ultimate target: President Obama.
The Republican establishment is circling the wagons around Mr. Romney. Over the weekend, Mitt was endorsed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, both stalwart conservatives whose states are in play on Super Tuesday. Sen. Bob Portman is stumping for him in Ohio. With a little help from his friends, Mr. Romney is poised to nail down some important wins and turn the tide for good.