The term "Super Tuesday" has been in use since at least 1976 to refer to any day on which presidential primary elections were to be held in multiple states simultaneously. In its contemporary incarnation--such as "Super Tuesday" in 2004 and the corresponding day in 2008--it usually refers to a Tuesday in February or early March on which so many primaries have been scheduled that, if a clear popular favorite for a party’s nomination exists, he or she will almost certainly be identified. It worked for the Democrats in 2004, and the Republicans in 2000 and 2008.
In 2012, however, Super Tuesday is not so super. The big day did not help the Republicans--the only party holding competitive primaries this election cycle--to end their grueling primary fight.
Indeed, the situation is much the same as it was on Monday: Romney as the acknowledged but admittedly weak frontrunner, with Santorum posing a constantly-nagging challenge from the right and Gingrich pounding away angrily from behind with run-on sentences and cliched historical references.
Perhaps this Super Tuesday seems inconsequential as compared to previous incarnations simply due to numbers: only ten states voted on Tuesday, compared to 21 on the February night four years ago that made John McCain the clear favorite for the nomination.
Romney claimed a narrow victory in Ohio, 37.9% to Santorum’s 37.1%. He pulled overwhelming wins in his home state of Massachusetts, along with Vermont, Idaho, Virginia (where only he and Ron Paul were even on the ballot due to registration errors by Santorum and Gingrich), and he even bested Santorum by 3% in Alaska, the last state to report on Tuesday.
Rick Santorum was nonetheless able to grab a victory in Tennessee, however, a key state this Super Tuesday, and a state which usually holds little importance in either party’s primary cycle, but this time played a key role in the narrative around Romney’s southern accessibility. Romney was hoping to possibly pull a plurality in Tennessee due to a potential Gingrich-Santorum split in the evangelical-conservative vote that did not materialize, as Santorum won a healthy 37% to Mitt Romney’s 28%, and all but four counties.
In Oklahoma and North Dakota, Santorum prevailed over Romney, winning a surprisingly small margin of 7% in Oklahoma and a equally surprising overwhelming margin in North Dakota, where Romney, who won the state in the 2008 Republican primary, came in third behind Santorum and Ron Paul, who hoped to possibly grab a win in the state.
Perhaps, had a true, two-dozen-state Super Tuesday taken place this year, the beleaguered son of liberty and Texas representative would have gotten at least one notch under his belt for having basically run for president nonstop since 2007.
Romney won six of the ten states up for grabs on Tuesday night, along with a clear majority of the 416 delegates at stake. Yet Rick Santorum's near-tie with Romney in Ohio, along with his win in Tennessee--not to mention Gingrich's overwhelming win in his home state of Georgia, the richest delegate prize available Tuesday night--show a fundamental weakness on Romney's part that must be remedied if he is to wrap up this nomination before he begins to look like a combination of the worst aspects of previous stilted, distant, and emotionless nominees like Michael Dukakis, Bob Dole, and Al Gore.
If one views the primary wins of Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich highlighted by state for each candidate in different colors on a map of the United States, a clear trend begins to emerge--a trend mentioned more than once by MSNBC data and statistics guru Chuck Todd during his network's coverage of the primaries on Tuesday night. Out of the fourteen states in which Mitt Romney has won contests so far in 2012, ten of them are located in just two regions of the country: the West, and New England.
Only four states evade this rule: Ohio, where Romney won by just over 10,000 votes; Virginia, where neither Santorum nor Romney were on the ballot; Michigan, where he was born and raised; and Florida, where he ran against Newt Gingrich in perhaps the most purely negative media campaign seen in a political race within the two major parties since before World War II.
Every other state outside New England or the West--every other state from North Dakota to Tennessee to Oklahoma to South Carolina--has rejected him. On a map of the United States showing primary wins, there is a huge gap in the middle of the country between Wyoming in the west and Michigan in the east where Romney has won not a single victory--in some states, not a single county, or less than four or five--and where Rick Santorum (or in the deep Southeast, Newt Gingrich) is the undisputed popular favorite.
The question Mitt Romney has to answer is how he becomes able to connect with these voters who just do not seem to like him one bit. Chris Matthews pointed out on Tuesday night that in none of these states--Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee--has Romney cracked even 30%.
Can Romney find a way to get even three out of ten voters in one of these states? If he is unable in one single primary, what will happen to him in these places in the general election? If a Republican candidate cannot win Tennessee and Oklahoma, forget Ohio.
About the author: Ian MacIsaac is a staff writer for the Capital City Free Press. He is a history major at Auburn University Montgomery in Montgomery, Alabama and former co-editor of the school newspaper, the AUMnibus.
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