Super Tuesday: A Viewers' Guide
Here’s what to watch for:
(To avoid a sea of links, all historical election data sourced from Wikipedia and the amazing website 270towin.com.)
Massachusetts (41 delegates), Idaho (32), Vermont (17)
Moderates, millionaires and Mormons will buoy Mitt Romney to easy wins in these three states, none of which will be at all close in the general election in November. Barack Obama won Vermont by 37 points and Massachusetts by 26 in 2008, and lost Idaho by 25. Mitt will bank some delegates, but there is no greater meaning to interpret in the results. If anyone makes a bold political prediction about the race going forward based on the results of the Vermont primary, please stop listening to that person.
Sidenote: While Romney will comfortably carry Idaho, he may not win in the northernmost precincts. The tip of the Idaho panhandle has historically been somewhat of a haven for white nationalist groups. Members of these groups and those that sympathize with them make up a tiny and regrettable rump portion of the national Ron Paul support base, but they are relatively active here and could propel him to a strong showing in northern Idaho. These are the type of people who are against the Federal Reserve not for economic reasons, but because they associate it with Jews.
North Dakota (28), Alaska (24)
Alaska is the only state that pays all its qualifying citizens (basically all Alaskans not involved in the criminal justice system) an annual dividend out of the state’s Permanent Fund, which is itself funded mostly by oil taxes and royalties. North Dakota is the only state with its own bank. These two staunchly conservative states that will easily go for whoever opposes Obama in the general election still find room for a little taste of socialism.
Both Alaska and North Dakota seem to be wide open as far as their Super Tuesday contests, but nobody has polled them because apparently, nobody cares.
I (sort of) care. I’m going to extrapolate Santorum’s successes in Iowa and Minnesota and apparent ability to connect with people of the Plains to predict a victory for him in North Dakota, and Alaska seems like a logistical nightmare of a caucus that Ron Paul and his strong organization is poised to win.
Georgia (76), Tennessee (58), Oklahoma (43)
Republicans in these states don’t particularly like Mitt Romney. Sure, he might pull out an upset victory in Tennessee with something like 35% of the vote if Newt Gingrich manages to win an unexpectedly large slice of Rick Santorum’s support, but he doesn’t have the type of street cred in these here parts that Newt or Rick do.
This has been and will be an ongoing problem for Mitt, and could indeed come back to haunt him in swing states like Virginia and Colorado. While a worse than expected performance in these three races would add to the chorus of doubt, Mitt shouldn’t overreact and try to get to the right of Oklahoma Republicans. Not only is that impossible, it would damage him in the swing state suburbs in November.
As with Alaska and North Dakota, Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma will be safely in the Republican column come November. They would be safely GOP if Trig Palin was the nominee. Oklahoma Republican primary voters may not like Mitt Romney nearly as much as they do Rick Santorum, but in a state that actually passed a bill banning sharia law (since overturned), and not as a joke, the fact that his name is not Willard Hussein Romney is going to be all that matters in the fall.
Santorum should take Oklahoma (easily) and Tennessee (in a close one, as Gingrich will perform strongly in the traditional South), and Newt should roll to a big victory in his home state of Georgia, which borders his South Carolina stronghold.
Two points on Virginia:
1. I realize that 10,000 signatures is not an unrealistic request to appear on the primary ballot, and Mitt Romney and Ron Paul handled their business, but it seems wrong on some level that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, national candidates with multi-million dollar budgets who somehow got on just about every other ballot, could not qualify for a place on the ballot of a large and important state like Virginia. I understand wanting to put in place some sort of gating mechanism to prevent a chaotic mess of a ballot, but if the gates are set too high, the electoral process becomes less democratic. Making the ballot cleaner and more efficient is commendable, but only up to the point where it infringes on the spirit of our democracy, in which the ability to represent the people is open to the people.
2. It is a shame that Virginia cannot have a Republican presidential primary with the full national field on the ballot, because it has moved far from safe Republican (Clinton lost Virginia twice) to where it looks to be firmly in the handful of swing states that seem to end up deciding every election. Obama won Virginia by 6 in an election where he won the national vote by 7.
If Obama wins the Kerry states in addition to Iowa (Obama +10 in 2008, Al Gore won here in 2000), New Mexico (Obama +15, another Gore state) and Virginia, he can lose both “bellwether” states of Florida and Ohio, plus Nevada and Colorado (where he won by 12 and 9, respectively, in 2008), and still get to 270 electoral votes and a victory. The Republican path to victory that excludes Virginia is a much Rockier road that asks a lot of the party’s ability to win increasingly Latino parts of America.
With neither of the plausible religious right non-Romney candidates available for selection in Virginia, we won’t get any real insights into how Virginians feel about Willard, friend of NASCAR owners, and that is a shame. Romney would appear to be strong in the moneyed DC suburbs, but with the rightward drift of the Republican party, and particularly Virginia Republicans (transvaginal ultrasounds), a lot of these college and post-graduate educated lawyers and consultants might be more firmly in the Democratic column going forward than even they realize.
Elections tend to be battled out in suburbs like these, but a winning candidate has to stockpile votes in his strongholds as well. Without Santorum and Gingrich on the ballot, no one knows how strong Romney’s support is in the deepest red parts of Virginia, and if those voters will come out for Romney if he is the general election candidate anywhere near as enthusiastically as they would for the two extreme social conservatives in the race.
As the only other candidate on the ballot, the Ron Paul vote could be relatively high with the addition of some anyone-but-Romney protest votes, but Virginia also has a large military population that should also give him some extra support he did not have in other states. Mitt Romney will roll to an easy win in a contest that will tell us absolutely nothing about what to expect in what will be a crucial swing state in November.
Ohio is the race to watch. It has voted for every winning presidential candidate since JFK in 1960, but only went for Obama by a 4.5% margin in 2008, less than previously solid Republican states like Virginia and Colorado did.
Western Pennsylvania native Rick Santorum feels right at home in many parts of Ohio and has performed strongly in polling, although Mitt Romney has made up some ground as of late. It should be a very close race, and there will be substantial Gingrich support, but I expect Santorum to eke out a 2-5 point victory.
While Santorum should be fairly successful in the voting booths on Tuesday, his campaign made some technical errors and failed to provide a full slate of three delegates for all congressional districts; in fact, in three of them, they did not provide a single one, which basically means he could end up forfeiting valuable pledged delegates in areas in which he might win or otherwise do well at the polls. One of these three delegate-less districts is Ohio’s 6th, bordering Pennsylvania and West Virginia, which includes the type of socially conservative, lower-income, white voters that Santorum should clean up with. Santorum could theoretically win the 6th in the polls by 20-30 points and get none of the three delegates at the Republican convention later this year.
The talking heads on TV will go on ad nauseam about Ohio being a bellwether state and must-win territory for any prospective presidential candidate, but this might well be the last election cycle where this is truly the case. Ohio definitely matters in 2012, but probably less so in 2016, and so on from there.
Even as Ohio continues to get older and somewhat more socially conservative, and proceeds down its likely path to becoming more favorable GOP territory in spite of overall national demographic trends, the state’s electoral significance as a fortress for any victorious Democratic presidential candidate looks to wane over the long run. As a result of the 2010 census, Ohio now has only 18 electoral votes, down two from 2008, and its lowest amount since 1828, when it elected Tea Party favorite Andrew Jackson.
If Obama and future Democrats can further entrench the growing and increasingly Latino battleground states of Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico (none won by Kerry, all won big by Obama), those 20 combined votes exceed Ohio. Given demographic trends, we can expect Ohio’s share of the national electoral college to further decline as the population of the 2008 Obama states of the intermountain west grows.
The importance of winning Ohio to a Democratic presidential candidate in our current two-party system, while still high, is at its lowest in decades and should continue to ebb. The fact that a retrograde candidate like Santorum has been so strong in the decades-long bellwether of Ohio, which based on that premise, should be much more favorable to a Massachusetts moderate than a guy who appears to be running for Pope, captures this.
The angry white male vote is not a “growth” vote in the way the Latino or Muslim-American vote is. The Republican party could not do a better job alienating the latter two as an integral part of its strategy in catering to the former, and while it might help them perform better in the short term in areas like Ohio and central Pennsylvania that are getting older, whiter and increasingly uncomfortable with a multicultural America, it’s a losing long-term strategy in areas where Republicans need to develop future generations of voters who are perfectly comfortable with a multiracial America that accepts evolution as fact.
Pundits like to claim that Ohio is so important because it is representative of America as a whole. I think this used to be the case a lot more than it currently is the case. Americans are leaving places like Ohio and moving to places like Colorado and Virginia, and establishing the industries of the future there.
The takeaway is this: if Santorum somehow has a win in Ohio that propels him to the Republican nomination based on his perceived strength in such an important historical swing state, it is a strength that equips him to win an election less and less as time goes on. The Republican party choosing the message of Santorum to win Ohio in 2012 might damage them tremendously in Virginia and Colorado for the next 20 years.
Happy watching; enjoy the show.
Reach staff columnist Matt Pressberg here.