It's finally Super Tuesday! This year is less "super," and a month later, than Super Tuesday 2008, when 24 states voted at once. But it remains the biggest day in the primary calendar, and we've got a lot to cover.
Before we begin, let's take a quick look at where the candidates currently are. The state win count stands at:
7 -- Mitt Romney
4 -- Rick Santorum
1 -- Newt Gingrich
0 -- Ron Paul
My own personal record for predicting outcomes fell slightly over the weekend, as I came close to calling Washington state perfectly, but Ron Paul edged out Rick Santorum for second place by a few hundred votes, so I only went 1-for-3 when the counting was done. This leaves me at:
Total correct 2012 primary picks so far: 21 for 36 -- 58%.
A few technical notes before I start throwing metaphorical darts at the Super Tuesday wall. First, what the heck is going on in Wyoming? They seemingly held some sort of straw-poll vote last week, without bothering to alert the media. Today, they are apparently holding some sort of gathering which will go on for days. Some mainstream media are saying there are ten states voting today, and some are including Wyoming and putting the number at eleven. Do they have a primary? A caucus? A "primacaucus"? Or perhaps a "caucamary"... OK, the whole thing is getting pretty downright cockamamie, so I've decided I'm just going to ignore Wyoming. If the state really wanted me to make a prediction, it would have settled on some sort of normal voting process, so better luck next time is all I can say.
The second technical note, for those of you playing at home, is that from today onwards I will only be prognosticating the actual winner of each state's contest. Up until now, I've been picking the top three, but the race is likely going to narrow considerably (whether Newt drops out or not, and no matter what Ron Paul is doing), so it'll be too easy to pick the second and third place finishers. Also, we've just got too much ground to cover today. Without further ado, let's get on with it, then (in alphabetic order).
Alaska is one of the three or four states where absolutely no opinion polling has taken place (at least that I've found), meaning it is anyone's guess who wins here. My head says to just go ahead and award the state to Mitt Romney, but my gut is desperately trying to convince my head that Ron Paul has a shot at it.
The state is small (population-wise) and will hold caucuses rather than a primary. This could favor Ron Paul. Alaska is fiercely independent in its political thinking, which could either favor Ron Paul or perhaps Rick Santorum. Ron Paul is the only candidate who bothered to travel the long plane ride up to Alaska, which means a great deal to voters there. Like Maine, this could be one of Ron Paul's best chances to actually win a state. Unlike Maine, though, Alaska is far away from Mitt Romney's home state of Massachusetts.
In other words, all the omens are good for a Paul victory in Alaska. So I'm going to go out on a limb and say Ron Paul wins his first state, way up north (even if my head still thinks Romney may actually surprise folks tonight, here).
Georgia is one of the few states voting today where multiple polls exist to tell us what's going on with the electorate. Although his lead has narrowed a bit, it looks like Newt Gingrich will win a home-state victory here.
[Grammatical interlude: We here use the phrase "home state" to identify the state a politician represented politically for most (or even all) of his or her political life. Mitt Romney's home state is Massachusetts, and Georgia is Newt's home state. Barack Obama's home state is Illinois. We also use the term "birth state" to identify the state where the politician was born, and may still have family ties -- Hawai'i for Obama, Michigan for Romney. Just to clarify. We now return you to your wildly speculative column.]
Newt has even admitted Georgia is a "must-win" state for him, which is rare in a candidate (they mostly prefer to hedge on this type of question). But even if he wins big here tonight, sooner or later it's going to dawn on him that the nomination is completely out of his reach. Whether he'll drop out or continue running with his Las Vegas Sugar Daddy's money will become irrelevant after today, that's my educated guess. But he will have a big state in his column at the end of the night tonight, at least, so he can go out with a bang instead of a whimper.
Idaho is a small caucus state, meaning Ron Paul likely has his eye on it. But I'm betting that the high percentage of Mormons in the state deliver it to Mitt Romney. I am doing this with no polling data whatsoever, I should mention, it's just a gut feeling. I could see Ron Paul eking out a victory here, and I wouldn't even be surprised if Rick Santorum won Idaho. But I'm going to go with conventional demographic wisdom and say Idaho goes for Mitt Romney.
This one is easy, and we're not going to waste a whole lot of time on it: Mitt Romney wins his home state of Massachusetts, and wins decisively. Nobody else will even come close to Mitt on his home ground.
North Dakota has no polling data available, meaning it's another "take a stab in the dark" state. It is a caucus state, but I haven't heard that Ron Paul has even visited, so perhaps that won't aid him at all. I can't see the state going for Gingrich, either. With nothing more to go on than the fact that the North Dakota Republican voters are an awfully (socially) conservative lot, I'm going to predict that Rick Santorum emerges victorious here tonight. Rick's shown some strength in the region (Minnesota, Colorado), and it seems like a good fit for him. Of course, Ron Paul could always surprise everyone here, but I'm betting that's not going to happen, and Rick Santorum takes North Dakota.
Ohio is the "big excitement" state today, as the mainstream media focuses heavily on the state. Ohio is not the state with the most delegates tonight (Georgia is), but it will almost surely be one of the two closest states (Tennessee will likely be the other).
There has been more Ohio polling than any other state, but it really doesn't help much because Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are polling as close to exactly even as can be imagined. Meaning even deep study of the numbers still requires a dart at the wall at the end of the process.
I'm going to go ahead and say Mitt Romney edges Santorum out here. Mitt's had a tiny bit of late momentum, whereas Santorum has been holding steady, which can be indicative. I think Ohio will be a re-run of what happened in next-door Michigan -- neck and neck, but Romney pulls it out in the end. While Rick Santorum is a good match for Ohio's conservatives, he will wind up winning the eastern and southern parts of the state (where the demographics and geographics are closer to Rick's home state of Pennsylvania), but Mitt will win in the north and in the crucial cities and suburbs (of which Ohio has a plethora). Because more people live in Mitt's areas, he'll emerge with the most votes and win the state.
There has been some polling out of Oklahoma, but not very much. Even without the polls, though, Oklahoma is easy to call for Rick Santorum. The state is extremely conservative socially, and is a good fit for Santorum -- possibly the best of the whole evening.
Tennessee may actually be the closest race tonight, and it may even be a close three-way race to boot. Santorum has been dominating in the polls in Tennessee for a while, but in the last week both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have both moved up solidly into challenging positions against Rick.
Like Ohio, even with polling on the ground to read, Tennessee is a real tossup. But perhaps because I'm feeling a bit sorry for him, I'm going to go ahead and call the state for Rick Santorum. Rick is going to have a fairly rough night elsewhere, so I'm betting that he'll be able to hold onto his edge here. I could be wrong about this one, and we'll likely be counting Tennessee votes late into the evening tonight, but while I don't feel all that confident of the pick, I'm still going to hand Tennessee to Rick Santorum.
Another easy one to call -- Mitt Romney will lock up Vermont, which is right next door to his home state. New England is Mitt's stronghold, which he's already proven by winning New Hampshire and even Maine (where Ron Paul put in a huge effort, but fell short). Vermont goes for Mitt tonight, as well.
The easiest state to call of the entire non-Massachusetts bunch. The only two names on the ballot for Virginians to choose from are Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich didn't have their act together when it came to that whole "getting your name on the ballot" thing, so Romney and Paul have a clear one-on-one field here. Gingrich should be especially chagrined about this state of affairs, since he's lived in Virginia for years now (across the Potomac from Washington, D.C.).
Mitt Romney will win in a landslide. He may even get a higher percentage of the vote here than in his home state of Massachusetts.
So, to review:
Mitt Romney -- Idaho, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont, Virginia
Rick Santorum -- North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee
Newt Gingrich -- Georgia
Ron Paul -- Alaska
Furthermore, Mitt Romney will absolutely dominate the all-important delegate count tonight. This will mean that all the professional pundits in the media can now stop pretending that Mitt Romney is in any sort of trouble, as it will become obvious even to the viewers at home that Mitt is going to be virtually uncatchable from this point on. Oh, sure, the media mavens may make the attempt to keep hyping the race as "close" or "a true two-man race" or any of the rest of it, but after tonight it's going to be a pretty sure bet that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee in 2012.
And that's it for my Super Tuesday 2012 picks! I'll be watching the returns come in tonight, so I invite folks to drop by and chat while we're all waiting to see what happens. Or, to close in our traditional fashion: those are my picks, what are yours?
[Update: Due to an inadvertent error, when this column first ran, we reported the wrong numbers for our picks so far. Instead of 18/30 (60%), the actual numbers are 21/36 (58%). We regret the error, and have corrected the numbers above. We aslo forgot to append the following links, to keep track of all our picks so far.]
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant