Super Tuesday ‘Win’ Could Rest in Ohio, Tennessee
Columbus, Ohio — For former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who’s riding the wave of three wins in a week, Super Tuesday provides an opportunity to break away from his rivals in the Republican presidential race.
“After weeks of ‘must-wins,’ Super Tuesday actually earns that description,” said GOP strategist Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee.
In all, 419 delegates are up for grabs when 10 states hold primaries and caucuses — more than all the contests to date combined, and more than a third of the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.
Georgia has the most delegates up for grabs on Tuesday but Ohio, because of its status as a crucial battleground state in the general election, is getting the most traffic on the ground and on the airwaves from Romney and his chief rival, former Sen. Rick Santorum.
A CNN/ORC International poll released Monday indicates that Ohio is a dead heat between Romney and Santorum, with each grabbing 32% of likely GOP primary voters. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was at 14% and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas was at 11%.
The CNN/ORC survey was the fifth released on Sunday and Monday to indicate a tie. Surveys released a week ago suggested that Santorum led Romney, but they were conducted before Romney’s large victory last Tuesday in Arizona and his edging out of Santorum to win his native Michigan.
Campaigning in Ohio on Monday, Romney sounded confident, saying, “I believe I am doing well at this stage. Actually, we just won our fifth state in a row which is good news.”
In addition to Arizona and Michigan, Romeny picked up a win Saturday in Washington state’s caucuses, as well as caucuses earlier in February in Wyoming and Maine.
But Eric Fernstrom, a top Romney adviser, on Sunday downplayed Ohio’s importance, saying, “I don’t think any state is a must-win. I think the only must-do on a candidate’s checklist is getting 1,144 delegates.”
But a look at where the campaigns are placing their advertising is evidence of Ohio’s importance.
“When it comes to the air war, Super Tuesday is really Super Ohio. Although ads are running in Tennessee and Georgia, more attention is being paid to Ohio,” said Kenneth Goldstein, CNN’s consultant on TV advertising and president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, a company that tracks and estimates the costs of campaign ads running on the air.
“When all is said and aired, like in previous states, the Romney campaign and their allies will have a large advantage.”
A leading GOP strategist thinks if Romney does well across the board on Tuesday night, he could come close to locking up his bid for the nomination.
“Even a come-from-behind win in Ohio won’t give Romney the momentum he needs to put this race away, but Romney could seal this deal Tuesday if he takes not only Ohio, but Tennessee,” said CNN contributor Alex Castellanos.
“If Romney demonstrates he can win in the South, GOP establishment and conservative voters will rally around him and money for his opponents would begin to dry up,” added Castellanos, who was a top media adviser for Romney’s 2008 nomination bid but who is not taking sides this cycle. “The real test Tuesday is this: Can Romney win not only in Ohio but in the South?”
Thanks to a sweep of contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri on February 7, Santorum went from a long shot candidate to a co-frontrunner, but he hasn’t had a victory since.
“Given Romney’s current string of victories, Santorum must show some signs of life, while not allowing Gingrich to do so in the South,” Heye said.
Another top Republican strategist agrees.
“Simply put, he needs to stop the bleeding after three straight losses by winning several states of his own — including the big one in Ohio,” said Gentry Collins, a former political director for the Republican National Committee and the Republican Governors Association.