Tomorrow is “Super Tuesday,” the latest—and possibly last—significant event on the Republican primary calendar. Eleven states will hold primaries, including such major ones as Ohio and Georgia, and 419 delegates will be at stake. Cable news will make a huge deal of it. John King may already be preloading ephedrine in preparation.
It’s important to keep a couple things in mind. Chief among them is that it’s very unlikely the outcome will meaningfully affect the current contour of the race. Right now, Mitt Romney is winning, and he’ll probably still be winning on Wednesday morning. As Matthew Dickinson, a political scientist at Middlebury College, points out in a clarifying blog post, the candidates’ shares of delegates and the popular votes are not likely to change.
But that doesn’t mean Super Tuesday is not important.
What’s at stake is momentum—something none of the various frontrunners has managed to maintain. Romney has won the last five contests. Mosts political insiders discount Georgia, assuming that Newt Gingrich will win handily, and Rick Santorum has a good shot to pick up Oklahoma. That makes Ohio the evening’s marquee matchup, even though, as Dickinson points out, more delegates are at stake in Georgia than Ohio. An Ohio loss for Romney probably wouldn’t do a great deal to jeopardize his chance of winning the nomination, but it would once again reemphasize his difficulty winning over blue-collar voters and prolong the contest in a way that’s likely to damage him further with the independent voters he’ll need to win in the fall.
But should Romney win Ohio (my bet), he’d demonstrate strength in a state whose demographics favor Rick Santorum, and he’d pretty much obviate any rationale for Santorum to remain in the race. That doesn’t mean Santorum (or Gingrich or Ron Paul) is likely to drop out soon. But the Republican establishment would probably close ranks around Romney in a way it’s been unwilling to do until now. While the race could bump along for several more months with all four candidates, it’s likely that the focus would at last shift to the general election and President Obama—for Romney, not a moment too soon.