Super Tuesday 2012: What’s at stake and who’s in the lead
Welcome to March Madness, the Republican version. The GOP final four -- Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul -- face the busiest primary day of 2012 next week on Super Tuesday, when voters in 10 states head to the polls or caucus sites.
The stakes are clear. For Romney, coming off victories in Michigan and Arizona, the mission is to keep amassing more delegates than his rivals, and polls suggest he will win the most delegates on Super Tuesday.
Exit polls showed Michigan voters’ top priority was the economy, a benefit to Romney, who has argued that he has stronger business credentials than Santorum, his chief rival. Romney’s perceived electability against President Obama also persuaded some voters to choose the former Massachusetts governor over Santorum, polls showed.
Santorum needs to recover from the missteps that blunted the momentum he was riding after a string of victories in early February, when he appeared positioned to consolidate the conservative vote. While his campaign has chastised the media for overlooking Santorum’s economic platform, a number of controversial statements by the candidate on birth control and the separation of church and state have left mainstream Republicans concerned the former Pennsylvania senator is too far to the right to win in November.
For Santorum, the most important Super Tuesday state is Ohio, a Rust Belt neighbor to his home state of Pennsylvania and a place where Santorum currently leads in the polls.
In part because of Santorum’s stumbles, Gingrich has an opportunity for yet another rebirth. But he needs to show he remains a viable option, and he knows it. Speaking on Thursday at a campaign event, Gingrich acknowledged, “I have to win Georgia,” his home state.
As for Paul, he says he’s happy to be outperforming his 2008 results. But he’s had little to show for his supposed delegate strategy. He has 18 in the latest Associated Press tally, which includes a projection of how many unpledged delegates he’ll collect from caucus states that have not awarded them yet.
If turnout mirrors what happened in 2008, it’s likely that nearly as many votes will be cast on March 6 than have been cast in the entire GOP nominating contest to date. There are certainly more delegates at stake on that one day -- 437 -- than the 302 awarded in the earliest-voting states.
Here’s a primer on the Super Tuesday states, ranked according to the number of delegates at stake:
Delegates at stake: 76
How it works: 34 delegates will be awarded proportionally to any candidate receiving more than 20% of the statewide vote. The winner in each of the state’s 14 congressional districts will earn another two delegates, and the second-place finisher will win one, unless one candidate wins more than 50% in a district.
2008 result: In a close three-way race, Mike Huckabee won 34% of the vote, followed by John McCain with 32% and Romney with 30%.
2012 advantage: An automated SurveyUSA poll has Gingrich ahead by 15 points, 39% to 24%, over Santorum.
Delegates at stake: 66
How it works: 15 delegates will be awarded on a proportional basis to any candidate receiving more than 20% of the statewide vote. If a candidate has more than 50%, though, he wins all 15. Another three delegates will be awarded to the winner in each of the state’s 16 congressional districts.
In both cases, voters are electing delegates who have pledged to vote for a presidential nominee. Santorum, it should be noted, did not file delegate lists in all of the congressional districts.
The final three delegates are the elected state party leaders.
2008 result: McCain easily defeated Huckabee, 60% to 31%.
2012 advantage: It’s close, by most estimates, but Santorum is polling strong. A new Quinnipiac poll released Friday put Santorum just ahead of Romney, 35% to 31%. A University of Cincinnati poll had Santorum further ahead, 37% to 26%.
Delegates at stake: 58
How it works: 28 delegates will be awarded on a proportional basis to any candidate receiving more than 20% of the statewide vote. If one candidate has more than 66% of the vote, he wins all 28. In the nine congressional districts, a candidate will win all three delegates if he wins 66% of the vote. If the winner and runner-up both have between 20% and 66% of the vote, the winner receives two delegates and the runner-up gets one. The other three delegates are the elected state party leaders.
2008 result: Huckabee edged McCain 34% to 32%, with Romney receiving 24% of the vote.
2012 advantage: Santorum’s message hasn’t played well with centrists, but resonates in the conservative South. A Middle Tennessee State University poll has him leading Romney 40-19%.
Delegates at stake: 49
How it works: 13 delegates will be awarded proportionally to any candidate receiving 15% of the vote. But because there are only two candidates on the ballot -- Romney and Paul -- it will likely be winner-take-all. Three delegates will also be awarded to the winner in each of the 11 congressional districts.
2008 result: McCain beat Huckabee 50% to 41%.
2012 advantage: Romney is in great shape. Three polls conducted this month -- by Roanoke College, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Quinnipiac University -- all had Romney ahead of Paul by double digits.
Delegates at stake: 43
How it works: 25 delegates will be awarded on a proportional basis to any candidate receiving more than 15% of the statewide vote, unless one candidate has more than 50%, in which case he wins all 25. In each of the state’s five congressional districts, three delegates will be awarded proportionally to candidates with 15% of the vote, unless, again, one had more than 50% of the vote in that district. The other three delegates are the elected state party leaders.
2008 result: McCain edged Huckabee 37% to 33%, while Romney had 25%.
2012 advantage: The Sooner Poll, conducted through mid-February, had Santorum leading Romney 39% to 23%, with Gingrich in third at 18%.
Delegates at stake: 41
How it works: 11 delegates will be awarded proportionally to any candidate receiving more than 15% of the statewide vote. Another three delegates will be awarded based on the vote in each of the state’s nine congressional districts, again proportionally to any candidate receiving more than 15% of the vote. The other three delegates are the elected state party leaders.
2008 result: Favorite son Romney won the Super Tuesday contest with 51% of the vote, with eventual nominee McCain scoring a close second with 41%.
2012 advantage: Romney is expected to coast to victory in his home.
Delegates at stake: 32
How it works: According to the Idaho Republican Party, a secret vote will be held at each county caucus, lasting several rounds. In each round, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated until one reaches 50%. County results will then be tabulated statewide, with 29 delegates awarded proportionally based on the final tallies. The other three delegates are the elected state party leaders.
2008 result: Idaho held a primary in May 2008 that McCain won handily, 70% to 24% over Paul.
2012 advantage: Unclear. Idaho has shifted from a primary system to holding caucuses so it could move its vote earlier in the calendar. Each of the candidates has spent time here.
NORTH DAKOTA CAUCUSES
Delegates at stake: 28
How it works: The caucuses will begin the process of allocating delegates to the national convention, but all 28 will remain unbound, meaning they can ultimately vote for whichever candidate they choose.
2008 result: Romney won 36% of the delegates elected to the state convention, McCain won 23%, Paul 21% and Huckabee 20%.
2012 advantage: Unclear. All four candidates have spent time in the state, including Romney, who stopped there on Thursday. Gingrich has made energy policy crucial to his recent message, with North Dakota, a booming oil state, in mind. Paul performs better in caucus states and should do well here.
ALASKA DISTRICT CONVENTIONS
Delegates at stake: 27
How it works: 24 delegates will be awarded on a proportional basis to candidates, based on the statewide vote, at individual district conventions. The other three delegates are the elected state party leaders.
2008 result: Romney won 44% of the state convention delegates elected, twice as many as second-place finisher Huckabee. Paul had 17%, and McCain, who ultimately tapped then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, got 15%.
2012 advantage: Unclear. Alaska is the only state with the distinction of having no candidates campaign there -- yet. Paul may be making a stop there this weekend.
Delegates at stake: 17
How they’re awarded: 11 delegates will be awarded on a proportional basis to any candidate receiving more than 20% of the statewide vote, unless one candidate received a majority. Another three delegates will be allocated to the overall statewide winner. The final three delegates are the elected state party leaders.
2008 result: McCain easily defeated Huckabee 72% to 14%.
2012 advantage: A Castleton State College poll had Romney ahead of Santorum 34% to 27%.
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