The latest Gallup tracking poll (below) shows that Mitt Romney has been the steadiest of the four remaining candidates for the GOP nomination, and he’s leading again nationally. Rick Santorum got a huge boost on February 7 when he won in Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri, but he has ridden the crest of that wave as far as it can take him. If he doesn’t demonstrate strength on Super Tuesday, he faces serious problems.
Newt Gingrich catapulted to a lead after the South Carolina primary on January 21, but it’s been downhill for him ever since. Ron Paul has no chance of winning the GOP nomination. He’s in the race to make a statement and to build a base of like-minded libertarians for the future. The best that he can hope for is good outings in the Idaho, North Dakota, and Alaska caucuses, and even that won’t help him win the nomination.
Romney has a sizable delegate advantage going into Super Tuesday, but with so many contests remaining, it is not an overwhelming lead. There are 2,286 total GOP delegates and 1,144 are needed to win the nomination. According to the Wall Street Journal, Romney has 203 delegates thus far compared with Santorum’s 92, Gingrich’s 33, and Paul’s 25. On Super Tuesday, 419 delegates are at stake. If Romney doesn’t capture the lion’s share of them, his front-runner status will be subject to question. If he wins a majority of the delegates and/or a majority of the states, he can claim that it’s time for the other candidates, including Santorum, to rally behind him as the eventual GOP nominee.
Idaho, Alaska, and North Dakota are the only caucus states on Super Tuesday. With just 32, 27, and 28 delegates, respectively, they don’t attract much of the candidates’ time and attention, but they shouldn’t be written off — in this kind of a race, every delegate counts. Terry Nelson, a Republican strategist, explains why:
“One measurement, and given the nature of the race the one that matters the most, is who wins the largest number of delegates,” he said. The race “seems to be more in the category of a long-term delegate fight, so the person who comes out on top of that is going to be the person best positioned to win the nomination. But it’s politics, and it’s about expectations in individual states. The candidates’ performance in those states will have an impact in judging perceptions as to the winner.”
Alaska and North Dakota are important for another reason as well: they are key energy states and energy will be a dominant issue in November. At a campaign stop in North Dakota last week, Romney made the case that President Obama’s record on energy is terrible:
Romney, who has been endorsed by many of the state’s most prominent Republicans, did not mention his Republican opponents in North Dakota. …
He argued that Obama has tried to stifle the development of oil and gas resources in the U.S. and said the president was wrong to try to strengthen federal oversight of fracking. …
Obama, Romney told an enthusiastic crowd at an early morning event in Fargo, has “tried to slow the growth of oil and gas production in this country, and coal production in this country. So far from taking credit, he should be hanging his head and taking a little bit of the blame for what’s going on today.” …
“When someone says do you want to bring in a pipeline that’s going to create tens of thousands of jobs to bring oil in from Canada, how in the world could you say no? But he did,” Romney said. “This is a president who does not understand energy. He is the problem. He is not the solution. It’s time to get him out of office and get someone in who will get us energy-secure.”