After a narrow win in the Michigan primary (3 points) and a decisive win in the Arizona primary (20 points) on Tuesday, Mitt Romney followed with a win in the Wyoming caucuses. He holds a 5-point lead in the only public poll for the Washington state caucuses this Saturday. On Tuesday, ten states will hold primaries or caucus events, with more delegates at stake on that day than have been awarded to date in the GOP nominating fight. With Romney opening up a double-digit lead nationally in the two most recent surveys for the GOP nomination, how many states could he win on Super Tuesday? If Romney does very well that day, will that effectively force at least one of his opponents to the sidelines?
So far in the GOP race, Mitt Romney has won almost twice as many total votes as either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. Gingrich was Romney’s principal challenger in South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada; Santorum was his main rival in all the other states except Maine, where Ron Paul finished second. For those on the right who have maintained that Romney is a poor candidate, and is stuck at 25% of the GOP electorate, the data prove this contention false. His vote share to date is over 40%, and he has exceeded the 40% level in several states — New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada, Michigan, and Arizona. In fact, the opposite appears to be true — there is about 25% of the GOP electorate stuck on not voting for Mitt Romney, and their votes have moved back and forth among possible contenders: Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich twice, and now Rick Santorum.
Looking at the ten states that will vote on Tuesday, geography will play a significant role. So far in this election cycle, momentum has meant relatively little. A candidate who wins one state has not been able to count on parlaying that victory into wins in the next contests. There have been momentum shifts, but they have been caused more by debate performances, performance on the stump, or negative advertising. Rick Perry bombed in the debates. Herman Cain’s candidacy collapsed after charges of inappropriate sexual behavior. Newt Gingrich soared in the polls with fiery debate rhetoric, directed both at the national media and President Obama. Rick Santorum surged in Iowa the old-fashioned way — by living and campaigning in the state for months. Mitt Romney has soldiered on, finishing first or second everywhere except for a beauty contest in Missouri, using his advantage in campaign cash and the help of superPACs to target whichever of his opponents was on the rise — Gingrich twice and now Santorum.
On Tuesday, Romney should win handily in Virginia, where only he and Ron Paul qualified for the ballot. He should clean up in Massachusetts, and is favored in Vermont (the only recent poll in that state has Romney up by 7 points). Romney should also win in Idaho, where well over a quarter of the GOP voters may be Mormon. Mormon voters have favored Romney with about a 90% vote share so far in the race. It is hard to see Romney not winning these states, so the question becomes: how many more can he add?