Super Tuesday: A View From The Couch Cockpit

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 6, 2012, voters began to vote in the Republican primaries. “Super Tuesday,” so-called because of the plethora of primary elections and caucuses held on this day, held approximately one-quarter of the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination for President. Eleven states voted: Virginia, Ohio, Idaho, Massachusetts, Alaska, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. Each state counted votes to choose delegates for the upcoming convention. While some states maintained a ‘winner take all’ rule about the election, others divided delegates based on the number of votes received. This effectively meant that big wins in certain states were hollow victories; in the end, the delegates went where expected.

While the race seemed to be straightforward (get votes, win delegates, get nomination); however, there were some unusual and not oft-reported factors that bore consideration. Although Gingrich and Santorum had recently celebrated popular and newsworthy victories, Romney still led in delegate votes, with an official count of 118 delegates. Gingrich was in second place with 29 delegates, while Santorum and Paul trailed with 17 and 8 respectively. Different candidates ran in different states: in Virginia, Gingrich and Santorum failed to qualify for the ballot. This meant that Virginia’s 33 winner-take-all delegates would likely go to Romney. Gingrich led in the polls in the prime prize state, Georgia, with 72 winner-take-all delegates. While other states may have provided Santorum an upset victory like his Colorado and Minnesota victories, there weren’t that many delegates to win — 24 for Alaska and 23 for North Dakota. Vermont was expected, by virtue of its proximity to Massachusetts, to grant delegates to Romney. For these reasons, many pundits and news sources considered Super Tuesday to be more about Romney regaining his advantage than about any deciding upsets. Others waited to see if Super Tuesday would mark the end of the Santorum and Paul campaigns.

So after work, the good people of the United States of America went home, settled onto the couch, grabbed the remote control, and watched to see if Super Tuesday would prove to be a yawn or a hand over the gasping mouth.

By five-thirty p.m. Pacific Standard Time, with 87% of precincts reporting, Mitt Romney had a solid lead in Virginia as expected. Massachusetts and Vermont also seemed to be solidly swinging Romney’s way. No surprises here. The race in Ohio was too close to call, with Romney and Santorum neck and neck at 38% each. Newt Gingrich, while holding on to a large lead in Georgia (his home state, remember), trailed badly in Tennessee while running slightly behind Romney in Oklahoma; in both of the latter states, Santorum led the pack. Could Super Tuesday prove to be an upset for Gingrich’s campaign rather than for Santorum’s?

By six-thirty, the race had been called in Georgia (Gingrich), in Virginia, in Vermont, and in Massachusetts (all Romney.) The race also seemed to be decided in Tennessee and in Oklahoma (Santorum). In North Dakota, with 11% reporting, Santorum showed a 40% lead. Santorum was also edging Romney out in Ohio. In Alaska, Wyoming, and in Idaho, the polls were either just closing or still open. Still no surprises.

Ohio’s close race seemed to be decided less by passion for either of the front-runners than by hatred of Obama. Phil Rosenik of North Canton claims to be “more excited about Obama out of office than Santorum in office,” concerned about Santorum’s weakness on the economy but pleased with his stance on social issues.

At eight o’clock, the race was still too close to call in Ohio, but Santorum had a slight lead. Idaho’s early reporting indicated a lead for Romney, while Santorum continued to hold North Dakota. Alaska’s polls were about to close. By eight-thirty, Romney had reversed  Santorum’s lead, but the race was still neck and neck. The North Dakota race was called for Santorum. In Idaho, Romney had a 75% solid lead with 50% of the polls reporting. By nine p.m., the New York Times reported that, with 22% of the votes accounted for, Romney showed a strong lead of 57% in Wyoming. With Ohio at 38% for Romney and 37% for Santorum (96% of the votes accounted for), it appeared that Romney would squeak out a very narrow win on Ohio.

And so it went for the result of the night. While Santorum was considered to be ‘hanging tough,’ the delegate math told a different story. At eight-thirty, Romney was projected to win 128 of the 419 delegates up for grabs; Santorum was projected at 47, Gingrich at 42, and Ron Paul at 10. By 9 points, the numbers changed slightly (Romney 147, Santorum 64, Gingrich 52, Paul 14), the percentages stayed steady. While Gingrich and Santorum both vowed to continue their SuperPAC-fueled candidacies and Romney considered the night a win in many states, the night seemed less about the individual candidates then about the growing and perhaps unmendable divide in the GOP.

So what was Super Tuesday about, really? Is there any question about who will eventually get the nomination? Not really. What seemed to be at stake was the ongoing question about the central tenets of the Republican Party, its reputation as an ever-right leaning group, and, of course, the direction that will be taken in Romney’s eventual choice of a running mate. And this spells trouble for a candidate who needs to quickly move back to the center in order to win a general election. The Los Angeles Times reported increasing concern ‘about the toll the contentious nominating fight has taken on the GOP and its candidates, reflected in polls showing gains by President Obama and increasingly sour views of the Republican field.’

Increasingly sour views, indeed. What began as a marriage of convenience between Ronald Reagan and the ‘Moral Majority’ has turned into a Tea Party-fueled nightmare, with the Religious Right increasingly unwilling to compromise on anything and the centrist forces increasingly on the defensive. The result is this morass of a primary season, with people either voting for Romney out of desperation or voting for Santorum out of convictions that are likely if anything to alienate the party even further from the moderate who ultimately control the November results. The only person running for President likely to consider this Tuesday ‘super’ is in fact President Obama. What we saw from the couch cockpit as the night rolled on was not an upswing towards an election, but a downswing for the future of the GOP. Romney may have won these battles, but Santorum ultimately may cost him — and the entire party — the war.