Indecisive Tuesday

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, March 6, 2012

 

The biggest news coming out of the Republican primaries in 10 states today will be that Mitt Romney is still a long way from the number of delegates needed to secure his party’s nomination.  Almost regardless of the results today, Super Tuesday will not be a decisive moment in the Republican race. The combination of Romney’s weaknesses and the electoral rules chosen by the Republican Party to assign delegates threatens to extend the battle for the nomination into late April. The longer it takes Romney to secure the nomination, the fewer chances he has against Obama in November.

 

The 11 primaries held so far have confirmed Romney as the front runner.  He has won more primaries and has secured more delegates. Still, his personality and policies have not convinced a majority of Republican voters.  Conservatives think he is too moderate. After all, as a governor, he championed a health care reform in Massachusetts that preceded Obamacare.  Many moderates are afraid that his personality will render him unelectable. He is not personable. Moreover, he has allowed his opponents to transform his wealth and successful business career into a huge gap that separates him from normal Americans. As if that were not enough, he has been cast as a flip-flopper.  As he struggles to win primaries in hostile environment, he has indeed flip-flopped a lot, creating a huge liability for himself in what will indisputably be a highly contested presidential campaign in the fall. Despite all that, he is expected to emerge as the winner in today’s primaries. If he does not do well, he will remain the frontrunner, but his chances against Obama in the fall will be greatly diminished.

 

Historically, Super Tuesday has been regarded as the biggest price in the extended season of presidential primaries. With 10 states sending 437 delegates, Super Tuesday states will elect more delegates than the 11 states that have held primaries so far. None of the remaining 14 primary dates will elect as many delegates to the Republican convention. 

 

In previous years, winning a majority of Super Tuesday states normally implied getting a sufficient number of delegates to come close to securing the nomination.  However, a change in the electoral rules adopted by Republicans in many states has made it almost impossible for anyone to transform an electoral victory into a sweeping advantage in the delegate count.  As delegates in many states are assigned proportionally, runner-ups also pick up delegates.  In his close victory in Michigan—the state where he grew up and his father was a popular governor—Romney picked up 16 delegates, only two more than Rick Santorum.  The same day in Arizona, with its winner-takes-all system, Romney added 29 delegates to his count.

 

So far, Romney has secured the support of 190 delegates, 55.6% of all the delegates committed so far.  He has won more states, including two with a winner-takes-all system, Florida and Arizona. He has also secured the support of the so-called Super Delegates, high profile Republican elected officials from each state. Today, for example, 15 of the 437 delegates up for grabs are super delegates—and thus their endorsement is actively sought after by each of the candidates.  According to recent estimates, Romney will get between 210 and 225 delegates today, bringing his total number to just over 400. To secure the nomination, he needs 1144 delegates.

 

Part of the problem for Romney is that there are still 4 candidates in the race. As delegates are assigned proportionally in many states, the higher the number of candidates, the more difficult it is to pass the threshold of 1144 delegates. Normally, when a candidate who has won delegates abandons the race, their delegates honor the endorsements made by their candidates.  Thus, in case Gingrich fails to make a sufficiently come back today—he is expected to win only in Georgia, his home state—his support will be actively sought after by the other men remaining in the race.  Ron Paul has already indicated that he plans to campaign until the end, hoping for a platform to air his views during the convention.

 

All those variable combined will make today’s Super Tuesday less momentous than historic precedent would lead us to believe.  Romney will win in more states, but will suffer a few embarrassing defeats. He will pick more delegates than his rivals, thus consolidating his position as frontrunner.  Yet, the results today will make it even harder for him to secure the nomination before the end of March. Key scattered victories for his rivals will embolden them to stay on the race, seeking media attention to promote their conservative messages. The Republican Party will continue to shift rightwards and moderates—despite their disappointment with the way President Obama has done his job—will be more inclined to support the incumbent president in November. To make matters worse for Republicans, signs of a strengthening economy are also benefiting President Obama.  Thus, even though Romney will pick more delegates than anyone else today, President Obama might turn out to be the big winner in today’s Republican primaries.