Politics

Idaho's Mormons, Vermont's 17-Year-Olds, North Dakota's Dirty Tricks: A Super Tuesday Primer

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Ohio
Delegates at stake: 66

The Buckeye State is considered by many to be Super Tuesday’s most important prize. Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute, said that Ohio matters so much “because it is so representative of the rest of the country.” A Feb. 27 Quinnipiac poll had Santorum up over Romney 36-29 in the state, but the former Pennsylvania senator failed to qualify for the ballot in three of Ohio’s 16 Congressional districts, which will automatically deny him the nine delegates to be won from those districts. In terms of endorsements, there’s no clear direction yet from the state’s Republican elites: While Senator Rob Portman has campaigned for Romney, Attorney General (and former Senator) Mike DeWine recently switched his endorsement from Romney to Santorum, and Governor John Kasich and House Speaker John Boehner haven’t endorsed anyone. And while Santorum is up in the latest polls, there’s more than enough time for his lead to vanish as Election Day approaches, just as it did in Michigan. The outcome may depend on those anti-Romney Republicans. “There is a bloc of Republican voters who seem pretty intent on not voting for Mitt Romney,” Brown said. “The question is, is that a large enough bloc to give the anti-Romney forces victory?”

 

Virginia
Delegates at stake: 49

This one is going to be a yawner. Due to a combination of poor campaign planning and the state’s tough qualification requirements, a number of Republican candidatesincluding Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorumfailed to even get on the ballot in Virginia. (The state requires, among other things, 10,000 approved signatures. Gingrich’s didn’t meet the requirements, and Santorum didn’t even submit them by the deadline.) The result is a two-man race between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, so expect the vast majority of Virginia’s delegates to go to Romney. (Write-in candidates, as Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar noted, aren’t allowed in Virginia’s primary.) Since it’s basically over before it began, the event is widely being derided as a messy failure. As The Washington Post’s editorial board scolded in January: “If the aim of Virginia was to host a presidential primary that no one cared about, it seems to have succeeded.”

 

Georgia
Delegates at stake: 76

Georgia represents what is probably Gingrich’s last, best chance to reignite his campaign. But while polls generally show the former representative from Georgia about ten points ahead of Romney and Santorum, there is plenty of room for movement. Charles Bullock, a political science professor from the University of Georgia, said that there have been few signs of Gingrich activity in the state, and the Republicans who’ve endorsed himincluding Governor Nathan Dealare not exactly going out of their way to stump for him. Romney, on the other hand, has money on his side: Georgia was recently part of his eight-state, $1.5 million ad buy, and he and his wife are already planning at least two visits to the state in advance of Tuesday. He’s also drawing endorsements from legislators who see him as the GOP’s best shot at the generalthough those lawmakers have received pushback from evangelicals that may temper their enthusiasm. (Santorum, to the extent that he gets any traction in the state, will draw some share of its large evangelical population.) And though the state is likely to be Gingrich’s best Super Tuesday showing, even a win won’t award him all 76 of the state’s delegates31 of which will be handed out proportionally, 42 by congressional district. “I would be surprised if Gingrich lost,” Bullock said, “but now it’s a question of how much space he can keep open between himself and the people who are chasing him.”

 

Idaho
Delegates at stake: 32

Mormons are the largest single religious group in Idaho, and they have been primed for turnout by Romney’s well-organized in-state operatives. But there’s a twist: This is the first year that Idaho Republicans are holding a caucus to divvy up delegates, and the state’s GOP leaders have closed the contest to anyone not registered Republican. Caucus-goers can register on Super Tuesday, but with only 3 to 5 percent of the state’s voters registered with any party, there is serious potential for delays and disaster, says College of Idaho professor Jasper LiCalzi. Delegates will be distributed by county, but Romney could capture all 32 of Idaho’s delegates if he wins more than 50% of statewide county caucus delegates. Caucus voting rules also give great weight to voters’ second choice, and in this strongly libertarian state, that is likely to be Ron Paulmeaning he could emerge from the Gem State with a handful of delegates, too. 

 

Tennessee
Delegates at stake: 58

Tennessee is Santorum’s to losea poll conducted by Vanderbilt last week gave him an 18-point lead over Romney, and Nate Silver put his chance of winning at 93 percent. But Santorum shouldn’t start planning a victory party just yet. The race may be closer than the polls imply: John Geer, a professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt who worked on the polling data, says that Romney’s numbers were improving in the later days of the poll and Santorum’s support is “paper thin.” The fragility of Santorum’s lead is largely the product of low recognition, so there’s a possibility that the kind of media carpet-bombing strategy that Romney has successfully employed in the past might work again. And despite some deeply conservative pockets in the state, Geer pointed out that “the state leadership is very moderate … not the kind of firebrands that you might see out of South Carolina.” Still, there is a very good chance that Santorum will carry the state (Tennessee distributes 27 delegates proportionally and awards 28 to the overall winner, plus three from party leaders), though enthusiasm for all candidates remains low. According to the Vanderbilt poll, almost one-quarter of voters are undecided or didn’t want to vote for any of the candidates, and early voting is down.

 

Massachusetts
Delegates at stake: 41

Not surprisingly, Romney looks to have his home state pretty well locked up, thanks to an overwhelming organizational advantage. A Suffolk/7News poll from mid-February gives the former governor a 48-point lead over Santorum, with Paul and Gingrich left with single digit crumbs. That’s not to say that Romney is wildly popularhis support, according to Jim Spencer, a veteran political consultant in Boston, is solid but lukewarm. But the other three candidates haven’t been putting up much of a fight. Massachusetts is an expensive media market, and though it awards its delegates proportionally, Romney’s establishment support makes the state a poor target for the resource-strapped campaigns of Santorum, Gingrich and Paul. “Ron Paul signs are the only signs I’ve seen,” Spencer said, noting that Romney barely needed to play in the state. “He’s a known commodity, the hometown boy. And he has some serious patronage.”

Alaska
Delegates at stake: 27

This is another lock for Romney. Art Hackney, a Republican political consultant in Alaska all but dismissed the prospect of anything other than an undisputed victory for Romney, who has personal connections in the state. “His kids have come here to go fishing,” Hackney explained. “They go out to a place in Bristol Baythey go out in the wilds.” More important, Romney’s money places him at a significant advantage in Alaska; given the size of the state, setting up operations can be expensive. 

Vermont
Delegates at stake: 17

Think of Vermont as a shotgun open primary: Voters don’t have to affiliate with any party until Election Day, at which point they must declare in order to vote. Vermont Director of Elections and Campaign Finance Kathy Scheele estimates that this legislative quirk drives down turnout. “Anecdotally, based on calls from angry citizens and town clerks,” she said, “there may be as many as ten percent of the voters who refuse to take a presidential primary ballot because they do not want to disclose any party affiliation.”

Voter turnout may swell anyway: This year, for the first time, seventeen year-olds who turn legal by the 2012 general election can vote in the primary, presumably to Ron Paul’s delight. And though Mitt Romney has little to fear in blue-state Vermont (he’s leading Santorum 37-24 according to a recent poll), a youth-driven Paul surge could carry disproportionate weight. The state’s 17 delegates are allocated according to a hybrid-proportional system: This means that if any one candidate receives over fifty percent of the total, he carries all the delegates. If not, fourteen at-large delegates are divided proportionally among candidates who receive at least 20 percent of the vote. To make a long story short, Romney has an incentive to get a majority, not just a plurality. So far, however, Romney has neither visited nor bought any advertising in Vermont, according to Castleton State College pollster Rich Clark.

 

Oklahoma
Delegates at stake: 43

There are four warring factions in Oklahoma Republican politics: a dwindling number of silk-stocking Chamber of Commerce types; an enormous evangelical population; a small bloc of libertarians; and an odd mix of John Birch holdovers and Glenn Beck acolytes. Though one can easily imagine each candidate latching onto a specific group, Rick Santorum is likely pilfering from all of themthe Oklahoma race isn’t close at all. A Rasmussen poll from last week has Santorum leading both Romney and Gingrich by more than 20 points. Santorum has a stable economy to thank for that: With just 6 percent unemployment, voters are more likely to decide based on social issues. The economy, rich with shale oil and natural gas, “benefits anybody but Romney,” University of Oklahoma political scientist Keith Gaddie says. “If voters don’t have a personal dissatisfaction [guiding their voting] they’re going to choose with their hearts.” And despite the state’s libertarian crowd, Ron Paul will likely finish last. Veteran Tulsa World reporter Randy Krehbiel chalks this up to the state’s prominent army bases, and the jobs that depend on them.

 

North Dakota
Delegates at stake: 28

North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, at 3.5 percent. And the state’s change-averse caucus voters would like to keep it that way. “There’s a certain fear of the firebrand, like Gingrich and Santorum,” according to University of North Dakota political scientist Mark Jendrysik. “North Dakota is not a state where being fired up and jumping up and down is going to get you very far.” Romney won the state in 2008, and Jendrysik thinks he’ll win again, though there doesn’t appear to be any recent polling to back him up. And it’s not just voters who appear to be hankering for an establishment victory. The state Republican party, Jendrysik speculates, is bent on dampening turnout so that crazed Ron Paul or Rick Santorum voters don’t hijack the caucuses.

North Dakota's GOP may indeed be guilty of some underhanded tactics this year. The state’s largest cities, like Fargo and Bismarck, only have one polling location each, and the state’s Republican Party website published erroneous information that could dissuade some people from voting: that to prove North Dakota residency at the polls, “a Drivers License or Student ID is required.” (State Party Communications Director Matt Becker confirmed that the website was wrong, and that all voters need is an address on a utility bill or a poll worker to vouch for them.) But perhaps you can sympathize with the party’s trepidation. North Dakota is the only state in the country that does not require voters to register at all, meaning, anybodyright-wing, left-wing, wing-nutcan vote on Super Tuesday. 

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