Presidential primaries are, as I have mentioned here before, relatively new phenomena in American politics — historically speaking.
Before Jimmy Carter made a point of entering every primary that was being held in 1976 (which caused a bit of a fuss back then), candidates would choose to enter some primaries and not to enter others.
After Carter was elected president, more states opted to hold primaries in both parties, and candidates felt obliged to enter all or most of them.
Somewhere along the line, each party's leadership happened on to the notion of holding several primaries on a single day, creating a Super Tuesday that would unofficially separate the presumptive nominee from the pretenders.
There are both pros and cons in this, and it is not my intention, on this occasion, to argue in favor or against having a Super Tuesday. That decision has been made for this presidential election cycle, for good or ill, and we're going to have one tomorrow.
So my objective is to anticipate what is likely to happen. More delegates will be up for grabs on Tuesday than have been committed so far:
- Georgia (76 delegates): Newt Gingrich represented a House district in northwest Georgia for 20 years, and he appears to have an unshakeable lead among the Republicans there.
If Gingrich wins his home state, it will be only his second win in the primaries — and both will have been in the South. He won't have established himself as a vote getter in any other region.
I don't know if his campaign will continue after tomorrow, but even if it does, I really don't think he will be much of a factor the rest of the way.
- Ohio (66): This is really the big prize. Although Ohio is not the most delegate–rich state that is voting on Tuesday, people pay attention to the results there because Ohio is a large state and what happens there is often seen as a national barometer.
And, in fact, Ohio does have a reputation for being a national bellwether. What's more, no Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio.
Thus, it is an attractive target. Victory there could have significant implications for the rest of the GOP race.
As late as last week, polls showed Rick Santorum with a narrow lead over Mitt Romney. But I'm inclined to think that Romney's win in Saturday's Washington state caucuses — a state in which Romney's campaign didn't expect to do well originally — could give him the momentum he needs to win Ohio.
Romney seems to sense as much. As CNN reports, the former Massachusetts governor appeared confident as he campaigned in Ohio during the weekend.
- Tennessee (58): Santorum may lose Ohio — I think he will — but his message is stronger than Romney's in the conservative South, and my sense is that he will win the Volunteer State handily.
If Romney is the Republican standard bearer, though, I see most, if not all, the states in the South voting for him — as they did when John McCain — and, before him, Bob Dole — was the nominee. Romney will need to work to win over Southern Republicans, but he won't have to work too hard to get their votes this fall.
- Virginia (49): With only two names on the ballot — Romney and Ron Paul — this could be a deceptively lopsided primary.
I was discussing this with my father the other night, and he observed that Paul would win his usual 10% of the popular vote. That's probably an exaggeration. I expect Paul to be a little more competitive in Virginia than that — I mean, there must be some voters in Virginia who would like to be voting for Santorum or Gingrich, but neither is on the ballot so they have no alternative but to vote for Paul if they wish to record their dissatisfaction with the apparent nominee.
Nevertheless, I do expect Romney to win by a wide margin in Virginia.
- Oklahoma (43): I grew up in the South. Most of the time, I lived in Arkansas, but I also lived in Tennessee (briefly). As an adult, I have lived mostly in Arkansas and Texas, but I lived in Oklahoma for four years.
Many people consider Oklahoma a part of the South, but I don't. To me, a Southern state is any state that was part of the United States when the Civil War occurred and chose to fight on the side of the South. Oklahoma did not join the Union until the 20th century.
Oklahoma is every bit as conservative as any traditional Southern state, though, and that could certainly be bewildering at first glance. There are, after all, more registered Democrats than registered Republicans in the state. But, in many cases, Democrat has a more middle–of–the–road definition in Oklahoma than it does anywhere else, and the truth is that Oklahomans have only voted for the Democrats' presidential nominee once in the last 60 years.
Sometimes their support is a bit tepid, but more Oklahomans vote for the Republican than the Democrat. Every time.
Consequently, if Romney wins the nomination, I think he can count on Oklahoma's support in November — but I don't think he can count on Oklahoma tomorrow. Only registered Republicans will be voting, and they are a decidedly conservative bunch in Oklahoma.
There was a definite evangelical influence in Oklahoma politics when I lived there, and I have no reason to think that has changed. My sense is that Santorum's anti–abortion, anti–contraception fervor will resonate with Oklahoma Republicans, and I expect him to win the Sooner state.
- Massachusetts (41): I've heard nothing to indicate that Romney won't win the state where he served as governor.
He beat McCain in the 2008 primary, and I expect him to win easily tomorrow.
- Idaho caucuses (32): This one bewilders me. Idaho held a primary four years ago but switched to a caucus, which tends to appeal to party activists more than casual participants.
The 2008 primary offers no clues to how Idahoans might vote. McCain won it with 70%. Paul received 24%.
But Idaho is a rock–ribbed Republican state. Three–quarters of its state senators and more than 80% of its state representatives are Republicans, as are Idaho's governor and both of its U.S. senators.
No Democrat has won Idaho since 1964, and, in most elections, Democratic presidential nominees cannot count on the support of as much as 40% of the voters on Election Day.
I feel confident in predicting that the Republican nominee will win Idaho this fall, but I don't have a clue who will win there tomorrow.
- North Dakota caucuses (28): North Dakota is as much an enigma to me as Idaho.
It has roughly the same history of supporting Republican candidates — albeit not as decisively — although, to be fair, it was fairly competitive in 2008.
Nevertheless, I am inclined to think that the Republican nominee will win North Dakota in November. Who will win it tomorrow is less certain.
- Alaska district conventions (27): I haven't heard any poll results from Alaska, and I am unaware of any campaign appearances that any of the Republicans have made there.
But Alaska is like North Dakota and Iowa. It is likely to vote Republican in November. Of the 13 presidential elections in which it has participated, Alaska has voted Republican in 12.
Alaska does seem to have something of a libertarian streak so it wouldn't surprise me if, in a four–way race, Paul might be able to win Alaska.
- Vermont (17): Vermont was once a reliably Republican state.
In the 19th century, Vermont routinely gave at least 70% of its votes to the Republicans. In the 20th century, it never voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt, even though it had four opportunities.
But the Democrats have carried Vermont in the last five presidential elections, and they probably will again. Vermont leans to the left these days — it gave two–thirds of its ballots to Obama in 2008. Even its Republicans, who have a lot more in common with retiring Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe than they do with most of the Republicans who are seeking the presidency, are more centrist than most.
My guess is that Vermont's Republican primary will have a fairly low turnout and that Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, will finish on top.
But if no one wins more than three, it will be inconclusive.