The Republican race kicks into high gear in March with nearly three-quarters of the 1114 delegates needed for the GOP nomination at stake in contests ranging from Vermont to American Samoa. Put another way: on Super Tuesday, March 6, more delegates were awarded in one day than in the previous two months. While the March schedule doesn’t exactly favor Mitt Romney, it’s not likely to severely damage him either. He’s likely to end March the way he began it: in the lead for delegates to the GOP Convention in Tampa.
Romney has succeeded in the primary goal of any primary effort: he’s consistently won more delegates and votes than everyone else. His victories in Michigan and Arizona at the end of February gave Romney a 2-1 lead over Rick Santorum in delegates; he won just over 40% of the total votes cast in January and February. That’s good enough in a four-way race. Except for his wipeout in South Carolina, even when he lost (as in the Midwest) he typically finished second. While Romney may not have the deepest reservoir of GOP support, he has the most consistent appeal.
Four times, Romney has been faced with “must-win” primaries: New Hampshire, Florida, Michigan, and Ohio. He won all four. The margins might not have been awe-inspiring, but as former Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer keeps saying: “a win is a win is a win.” He now has more than half of the total delegates allocated, which means he is currently on track for a first-ballot nomination.
Of the 10 Super Tuesday contests, Mitt won six, Santorum three, and Newt one. Romney won so overwhelmingly in his home state of Massachusetts that he was awarded 100% of the delegates. And when Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich failed to qualify for Virginia, Romney was awarded 43 delegates to Ron Paul’s three. With his narrow victories in Ohio and Alaska plus a 32-0 sweep in Idaho and a solid win in Vermont, Romney has built a healthy lead and is almost one-third of the way to the threshold.
For either Gingrich or Santorum to win the nomination, they would need roughly 70% of the remaining delegates. That is not remotely likely as long it is a four-way race. The other good news for Romney is that Newt’s big win in Georgia means he will stay in the race and keep on splitting the conservative opposition with Santorum. (Newt gathered over 170,000 votes in Ohio while Santorum only lost there by 12,000. Newt undeniably played spoiler.)
The rest of March presents a mixture of opportunities for the Romney camp: his superior finances and organization make him a favorite in Hawaii and the other island caucuses. Based on his consistent pattern of rural support, Santorum should have the edge in Kansas. Newt’s only wins so far have come in South Carolina and Georgia. Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana could well be Gingrich wins. Illinois on March 20 has the biggest batch of delegates in late March: the Chicago suburbs are full of the upper-class white collar workers who have been Mitt’s base in 2012. Roughly half of Illinois Republicans are suburbanites and they have often voted for GOP moderates like Charles Percy, Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar, and Mark Kirk.
Even if Romney were to lose almost all of these contests, he will still be gathering 25-30% of the delegates, rolling steadily toward the nomination.
Romney’s critics keep arguing that he can’t close the deal with the conservative majority of Republicans. That may be true, but Mitt is closing in on an almost insurmountable delegate lead.