Monday, March 5, 2012

Super Tuesday Preview

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, and with it comes a pivotal moment in the Republican primary battle.  Ten states with over 400 delegates will hold their primary or caucus.  These states come from all regions of America, and after tomorrow 22 states will have cast their votes in the process (23 if you count Missouri, though their actual delegate-related caucus is not for 2 weeks).  Going into these contests, I'm going to give you an overview of these states to let you know what to expect & a county or two in each state worth watching as the returns come in.

Alaska (27 delegates) - Without a doubt, this is the most difficult of the Super Tuesday states to have a feel for.  Alaska's caucuses come with no polling & no clear indication of organizational strength in the state.  Only 2 campaigns have made much of a play for the state.  Josh Romney spent several days in the state campaigning on his father's behalf a couple weeks ago, and just yesterday Ron Paul made 2 stops in the state (Fairbanks & Anchorage).  

Alaska presents the best opportunity Paul has at winning a state.  Alaskan caucus voters have traditionally been a contrarian bunch as past caucus winners Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan could attest (if only Pat Paulsen had run there), and the state's remote nature gives it a decidedly stronger libertarian streak than other states possess.  Paul's only problem is that the state's caucuses are closed, giving him no boost from his independent supporters.  In short, if Rep. Paul cannot score his first victory here then it is hard to see any place going forward for him to claim a win.  

When the Alaska results come in, expect it to be a 2-man battle between Paul & Romney (with a respectable showing by Santorum).  Fully aware of how far off I could be in a state with so many unknowns, I'll say this is the place where Paul's libertarian crusade finally claims a win.  

Prediction: Paul victory 40-34 over Romney, his first and last of the primary battle.

Boroughs to watch: Anchorage & Fairbanks North Star, aka: the two places Paul visited yesterday.  Paul drew around 1,000 people to each location.  Given that total turnout in 2008 was slightly under 14,000, this would represent a sizable amount of expected turnout.  The question is how many of those attendees will actually go caucus for Paul.  If Paul's totals in these boroughs are well over 1,000, expect a good night for him.  If they're below those numbers, he is likely to once again be denied a victory.

Georgia (76 delegates) - In most years, the state with the most delegates would be viewed as the biggest prize.  Two factors have caused Georgia to be something of an afterthought in the narrative this year though: Speaker Gingrich's built-in advantage and the inherent importance of Ohio in national politics.

Those factors aside, Georgia looks to be a strong victory for Newt's fledgling campaign.  He's gone all-in to win the state convincingly, and polling has him consistently ahead by double digits in the state he represented as a Congressman.  

The big question in GA is not so much does Newt win, but by how much.  Each Congressional district has 3 delegates tied to its result by proportion unless a candidate wins a majority in the district (then it's winner-take-all).  The 31 statewide at-large delegates are awarded in identical fashion.  If Newt could hit 50% in the state he'd be in line for a huge delegate haul that would give him the boost he needs.  

For Romney & Santorum, the key number is 20%.  That's the figure a candidate has to reach statewide/in districts to be eligible for delegates.  Romney's momentum appears to be carrying him safely above that number in the state, while Santorum is hovering dangerously close to that figure.  

Prediction: Newt wins but stays under 50 (43-29 over Romney with Santorum just over 20).  Newt claims between 45-50 of the state's delegates.

Counties to watch: Cobb/Fulton & Chatham.  Cobb & Fulton are the large suburban counties to the north of Atlanta.  Newt represented this area in his final years in Congress, and any hope of winning an outright majority in the state hinges upon running up a large total in this area.  Chatham county is Savannah along the east coast.  If Romney is to steal a couple CDs away from Gingrich in the state, this is probably the best area for him to do so. 

Idaho (32 delegates) - The first of the 'solid Romney' states on the list.  The other campaigns have essentially conceded Idaho's caucuses to Mitt.  With 26% of the state's population being Mormon (a Romney stronghold), it's a logical move by the other campaigns.

What matters for the purpose of delegates is whether or not Mitt breaks 50%.  If he does, he wins all 32 delegates (otherwise the delegates are proportioned).  This is not as simple as winning a majority of individual votes, because Idaho uses a different system.  The best way to think of it is like the electoral college: each county has a pre-determined value placed upon it toward the overall state figure.  Winning a majority means winning a majority of that figure, not the vote count.  The Green Papers website breaks it down in its Idaho page here.

Prediction: Romney in a rout, surpassing the 50% threshold & winning all 32 delegates.

County to watch: Ada County.  Not to be confused with Boise County, Ada is the home of the city of Boise.  By far the largest county in the state, a convincing win here by Romney will be an indication that he will exceed that 50 percent requirement.

Massachusetts (41 delegates) - Solidly Romney state #2.  Mitt of course was Governor of MA, and Republican voters in the state continue to view him favorably.  With Mitt up by 40+ in the only two recent polls of the state, there's very little to anticipate in the state.  

A note on delegate allotment: by-laws declare that the state convenes an allocation committee to decide how to award delegates to those who win at least 15% percent of the vote.  Santorum is hovering right at that 15% mark in polling, so he may or may not wind up eligible to claim a few of the state's delegates.

Prediction: Romney wins big (66-16), but Santorum wins just enough for delegate consideration.

County to watch: If you're really into watching a county Massachusetts, go with Plymouth.  It's the most Republican part of an otherwise blue state (McCain won 46% here in 2008).

North Dakota (28 delegates) - The last of the caucus states tomorrow.  The Romney, Paul, and Santorum campaigns have all visited the state fairly recently in hopes of building support.  Like Alaska, this is a state that is hard to get a feel for due to an absence of polling or anecdotal evidence.  

Paul has made a strong push to win here as well, but he faces more difficulty here than in Alaska.  For one, Romney's campaign has made a more public effort in this state than he has (or realistically could) in AK, with a campaign stop in Fargo last Thursday right in the middle of the Super Tuesday push.  Santorum also figures to perform better here as well, in an environment somewhat similar to neighboring Minnesota.  Santorum's problem will come from a lack of organization, something he overcame in some previous states via far more extensive personal campaigning in the state.

Like Alaska, this is a state where the range of possible outcomes is fairly wide.  Neither a Romney nor a Paul win would come as a surprise (even a win by Santorum would not amount to a great upset).  The state's political makeup would seem less favorable to Paul's insurgent campaign, so I project a very slight edge to Romney.

Prediction: Romney, Paul, & Santorum finish 1-2-3 (37-32-26) in a very close result.

Counties to watch: Cass & Grand Forks.  Home to the cities of Fargo & Grand Forks respectively, both lie on the state's eastern border with Minnesota.  Grand Forks is home to the University of North Dakota, and Paul needs to do well here to win.  Fargo to the south is the state's largest city, and any kind of strong win here for the three leading candidates could point to a statewide victory.

Oklahoma (43 delegates) - The only southwestern state voting tomorrow has also been largely ignored in the discussion of tomorrow's contests.  Ever since two polls from last month showed Santorum with a 20-point lead over Romney & Gingrich, the state has been regarded as a solid victory for Santorum's campaign.  

The problem with these numbers is that they both came during the peak of Santorum's rise nationally.  As other Super Tuesday states have shown a clear swing toward Romney post-Michigan/Arizona of roughly 10 points, there figures to be a comparable movement in Oklahoma as well.  Restore Our Future (the pro-Romney Super PAC) has been on the air in the state, and the endorsement Sunday of OK Sen. Tom Coburn (one of the most conservative members of the Senate).

Santorum is still the clear favorite in Oklahoma, but the visions of a landslide win in the state some had 2 weeks ago seem far less likely.

Prediction: A Santorum victory in the 10-point range over Romney with Gingrich a respectable 3rd (40-31-22)

County to watch: Canadian County.  Bordering Oklahoma City to its west, Canadian is a fairly large & mostly suburban county.  Why is it the one to watch? Because 4 years ago this county's results were identical to the statewide total in both the Republican (McCain 37-33 over Huckabee with Romney at 25 & Paul 3) and Democratic (Clinton 55-31 over Obama) primaries.  In short, Canadian is a likely bellwether of what to expect across Oklahoma.

Vermont (17 delegates) - Tiny Vermont offers the fewest delegates of any Super Tuesday state.  Other campaigns have essentially conceded the state to the Romney campaign, so there is little reason to expect drama over who wins the Green Mountain State in tomorrow's coverage.  

As with other states, a key question is can the presumed victor (Romney) surpass 50%.  If he can, then he wins all 17 of the state's delegates.  While Santorum & Gingrich seem to have no discernible infrastructure operating in Vermont, there appears to be at least some effort by Paul's team to secure a strong 2nd place finish that would keep Mitt shy of 50 (and give Paul a few proportional delegates).  

Prediction: Romney wins & manages to just barely cross the 50% threshold (52-24 over Paul).

County to watch: Chittenden.  Home to Vermont's largest city (Burlington) and the University of Vermont, Chittenden figures to be Ron Paul's strongest region of the state.  If he is going to keep Mitt's totals under a majority, this is where he'll have to have to make it happen.

Virginia (49 delegates) - Virginia would have been a key battleground in the Super Tuesday fight had all 4 candidates qualified for the ballot.  But due to 1 campaign's disorganized effort (Gingrich) & 1 not even attempting the process (Santorum), Virginia is strictly a Romney-Paul battle.

Several polls over the last month all show Romney with a massive lead in this head-to-head matchup.  While a concerted effort by the Gingrich & Santorum teams to have their supporters cast a protest vote for Paul might have had some impact, the absence of that effort has their support going en masse to Mitt.  

Prediction: A huge win for Romney (72-28), and a sweep of the 46 delegates tied to the primary.

County to watch: Albemarle.  The home county of the University of Virginia.  If there's any place where Ron Paul would win a county, Albemarle is perhaps the most likely.

That leaves us with the two states where the focus will be centered in analysis of tomorrow's results: Ohio and Tennessee.  Ohio has been in the spotlight ever since the primary date was finalized, while Tennessee has suddenly become a nail-biter as both Romney and Gingrich have experienced a surge in the state.  

Tennessee (58 delegates) - Two weeks ago, few would have imagined that this state would be a prime battleground of Super Tuesday.  Santorum's lead was around 20, and conventional wisdom saw this state (along with Oklahoma) as the base of his campaign's delegate math on the day.  

But things have turned dramatically in the last week.  In three separate polls from the last two days, Santorum's average lead is down to just 2.6 percent over Mitt Romney with Newt Gingrich a strong 3rd.  The Romney campaign & Restore Our Future have both put considerable effort into the state, and the recent polling shows this is working.

Tennessee 2012 bears a striking similarity to Tennessee 2008.  Then, Mike Huckabee had raced out to a lead in the state only for John McCain to surge to a near tie after his Florida victory.  Mitt Romney that year was running a strong 3rd, taking a quarter of the vote.  

Any momentum for Gingrich is likely diminished by his campaign's almost singular focus on Georgia.  That lack of organization probably keeps him from being a serious contender for the statewide victory, though Newt now seems poised to siphon away a number of delegates.

That leaves the headline out of the state down to two people, Rick & Mitt.  Romney's greatest enemy in the state right now seems to be time.  That there's movement in his direction is clear, but the clock has run out for any big events or new ad buys to fuel the fire.  Romney also has the problem of the early vote advantage Santorum seems to have.  Unlike other states where this group was a strength for Romney via superior organization, his campaign wasn't as focused on the state a couple weeks ago & all indications are that Santorum has a built-in lead.  It would not surprise me if Romney won among people who vote tomorrow, but I feel the votes already cast continue to give Santorum the edge in the state.

Prediction: Santorum holds on to win with Romney a close second and Gingrich 3rd (35-32-26).  All 3 win a sizable portion of delegates.

Counties to watch: Hamilton, Shelby and Williamson.  

Hamilton County is in the southeastern part of the state, bordering Georgia and home to the city of Chattanooga.  A Huckabee county four years ago, any plausible path to a Gingrich upset in the state starts with winning the southeast.  If Newt is winning by a solid margin here, he just might be able to pull off a second win tomorrow.  

Shelby County is Memphis & surrounding areas.  In 2008 it was the only of Tennessee's three largest cities to go for Huckabee, and Santorum's efforts in the state will largely be dictated by how well he runs in the state's largest metro area.  If he runs roughly even or better than Huckabee's 38% then it could be a good sign Santorum has held on.

Williamson County lies just south of Nashville.  When Romney ran a strong 3rd in the state last election, he actually carried Nashville & the surrounding counties (Williamson being his strongest county).  Romney's path to victory this election starts with winning affluent, suburban counties like this one by even greater margins than his 39-30 win previously.  

Ohio (66 delegates) - Saving the most important for last, Ohio is the epicenter of the nation's attention tomorrow.  The quintessential swing state, Ohio has turned into a showdown between the Romney and Santorum campaigns.  Not unlike Michigan, here Santorum has seen a nearly 10-point lead one week ago evaporate into a dead even battle.  Both candidates have spent the bulk of the last several days here, and each side (combined with Super PACs) has spent millions on the airwaves.  

Santorum's problem in the state is that even if winds up winning the statewide vote narrowly he would still lose the delegate battle.  In 3 of the 16 Congressional districts in Ohio (the 6th, 9th, and 13th districts), Santorum filed no delegate slate & cannot win any district delegates.  Santorum also has incomplete delegate slates in 6 other districts (2 filed in districts 3, 8, 12, and 1 filed in districts 4, 10, and 16), leaving him with the possibility of winning those districts only to have part of the delegation wind up with other campaigns.  Santorum also failed to file a full slate for Ohio's 15 statewide delegates, though that's unlikely to harm him as no candidate is likely to reach 50%.  

For Romney, Ohio presents the opportunity to take firm control in the race for the nomination.  While winning Ohio would not instantly end the campaign, a Romney victory would dramatically increase the pressure and calls from many in the party for the party to unite & turn its attention to defeating Obama.  It would also be a victory in what has been the strength of the Santorum campaign to date, the Midwest.  Team Romney has put substantial time and resources into the state hoping to achieve this result.

As with Tennessee, there's little doubt that the late momentum is firmly behind the Romney camp.  Just today, Romney took his first lead in the Real Clear Politics Ohio poll average in weeks (albeit by just .1 percent).  The question that may decide the election is what votes are already in the bank for candidates.  When Suffolk released their Ohio poll today, they had Santorum with a 17-point lead among early voters.  This however appears to be an outlier.  The other polls taken in the last couple of days show some kind of single digit lead for Romney among these early voters, and the anecdotal evidence here on the ground would tend to confirm that.  

If Romney is running even or slightly ahead with early voters, then the race will come down to late momentum and turnout operations in the state.  With late deciders breaking more toward Mitt, and a better funded ground game, Romney looks to be the favorite in a down to the wire battle for the Buckeye State.

Prediction: Romney wins the big prize by 5 over Santorum (39-34), with Gingrich and Paul (16-10) both in double digits.

Counties to watch: Butler, Delaware, Summit.  

As a Miami alum, I'm always partial toward Butler.  Home to Speaker Boehner, Butler County is the heart of Ohio's Republican base in the southwest.  A mix of rural communities, fast growing suburban communities like West Chester and Liberty Townships, more urban areas like Hamilton and Middletown, and college town Oxford in the north, Butler provides a micro-chasm of the Ohio Republican electorate.  Santorum likely needs to post solid margins in the southwest if he hopes to claim the statewide vote for his campaign.

Delaware County to the north of Columbus is Ohio's fastest growing county.  Much like Butler, the county contains a mixture of the expanding suburban communities of the south and the more rural areas of the northern parts of the county.   For Romney, taking counties in Central Ohio is probably key to helping offset Santorum's areas of greater strength.

Summit County in the northeast is the home of Akron, with Cleveland laying just to the north and Canton just to the south.  This is likely to be a strong region of the state for Gov. Romney and, not unlike Santorum's need to have strong showings in the southwest, Romney will want to see strong margins over Santorum in places like Summit as the results come in.

Delegate Math:

So what does all of this mean for the ultimate battle, the race for delegates?  A state-by-state breakdown of my Super Tuesday projections looks like this.

Alaska: Paul 9, Romney 8, Santorum 4, Gingrich 3 (3 RNC uncommitted)
Georgia: Gingrich 48, Romney 18, Santorum 10
Idaho: Romney 32
Massachusetts: Romney 32, Santorum 6 (3 RNC uncommitted)
North Dakota: Romney 10, Paul 8, Santorum 7, Gingrich 3
Ohio: Romney 35, Santorum 23, Uncommitted 5 (+3 RNC uncommitted)
Oklahoma: Santorum 20, Romney 13, Gingrich 7 (3 RNC uncommitted)
Tennessee: Santorum 23, Romney 19, Gingrich 13 (3 RNC uncommitted)
Vermont: Romney 17
Virginia: Romney 46 (3 RNC uncommitted)

Totals: Romney 230, Santorum 93, Gingrich 74, Paul 17 (23 uncommitted)

Even if Ohio and North Dakota were to shift away from Romney, he still stands poised to win the plurality of delegates on the night.  In short, Romney's position tomorrow starts with a far greater advantage than any of his opponents.

No comments:

Post a Comment