In a year like this, when virtually every pundit and journalist has postulated that the GOP nomination process will drag on until mid-June, it makes perfect sense that the race effectively end tonight, March 6. That may in fact be the case, as Mitt Romney will likely win several states tonight including Ohio and tally up more than 200 delegates. While a lot can happen and the large lady hasn't sung yet, she is clearing her throat.
Here is our take on the current political environment this morning:
- Romney has achieved sustained momentum for the first time in this campaign. And, he is the first candidate to do so. The caucuses last Saturday in Washington state helped a lot. Washington was Ron Paul territory and Romney was able to take the Michigan and Arizona wins and turn them into a momentum builder.
- For the first time, it appears that Governor Romney is finding his voice. Of course, a verbal gaffe can always be right around the corner, but Romney has steadied himself the last 10 days. We may look back on Michigan as a critical turning point for this candidate. He seems more comfortable and as things turn back to the economy (as they will) this should only increase.
- Team Santorum may have banked too much on the values play in Michigan and now, in Ohio. We have said it before and will say it again, the rise of the Tea Party in 2009/10 was almost exclusively about spending and government overreach. The main stream media has tried to equate the tea party with social conservatives, but they are not the same. Now, there is a strong social conservative strain in the GOP, but that alone may not be enough to carry someone like Santorum in a down economy.
- The GOP nominating process has hurt Romney and the GOP brand, but that is transitory and there is plenty of time to heal. Yes, the latest NBC/WSJ poll shows Romney's unfavorable number very high, but that is because he has been fighting a bruising primary contest. Furthermore, many voters have no impression of the governor at all. President Obama is in a solid position at this point, but I agree with Karl Rove's assessment that the Obama team's posture is cocky. The economic numbers don't support that level of optimism. Yes, perceptions are improving but things remain fragile. And finally, as gas prices move up, the president's approval rating will surely begin to drop.
Today is Super Tuesday and there are 11 contests where over 400 delegates are being fought for. The following is a quick snapshot of some of the key races and our projection:
- Ohio. Team Romney decided to go for broke and spent significant resources over the last week on advertising. Their GOTV effort is very strong. Our sense is that momentum is with Romney and he is likely to win the state outright by 2 or 3 points. There will be a share of delegates, but one thing is clear, this will be a huge and perhaps debilitating loss for Santorum. Not sure he can recover from this. Money will likely dry up.
- Georgia. This is home state for Gingrich and he should win by at least 12 to 15 points. This will keep Gingrich in the race for the time being. Romney will finish second.
- Tennessee. This is one that Santorum led by 20 points a month ago. Yet, late polls show a dwindling lead. Santorum should win, but a Romney surprise upset could shut the door for Santorum.
- Romney will win MA, VT, VA and ID.
- Paul will get North Dakota and Alaska caucuses.
Watch the vote and the exits in Ohio tonight. This state will be most pivotal in the Fall election and a test for Romney's electability.
Special thanks to John Zirinsky, Jennifer Myers and Allison Quigley for their contributions to the Monitor. Follow us on Twitter: @Steve_Lombardo.
(Please note that the author was an advisor to the Romney for President campaign in 2008 but is not affiliated with any campaign in 2012.)
Follow Steve Lombardo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Steve_Lombardo