On this Super-Tuesday 10 states are having their Republican nominating contests, and there will be plenty of questions and storylines to churn through. Here are the most important ones: 1) What counts in Ohio: popular vote or delegates? Ohio will be watched very closely because the polls show Santorum and Romney in a dead heat. It also has a kind of legendary swing status: No modern Republican has won the Presidency without carrying this state. Romney has qualified to win more delegates that aren’t assigned by popular vote. Santorum has not. If Santorum wins the popular vote, does the media pass on the message that Romney can’t quell conservative doubts about his candidacy? Or does Romney get credit for winning the task at hand, which is collecting delegates?
2) Is the Gingrich campaign over? He may win his home state and nowhere else. Unlike Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich can’t argue that he is building a movement within the party. The conservative movement he wants to lead has lots of champions in the party. Also unlike Paul he can’t argue that he has an well-oiled campaign machine snapping up delegates that other campaigns are leaving behind. Can he rebut the argument that because it will become almost mathematically impossible for him to win the nomination, his continued presence in the race is just hurting the Republican party.
3) Are Paul’s fans losing enthusiasm? Paul has always been engaged in spreading his ideas, and building up a wing of the party that will live long past his own political career. But Paul’s campaign keeps coming up short of its own high expectations. There was a time he was a front-runner in Iowa. At another he was expected to win the Maine caucuses. Without any outright wins, will he supporters keep turning out and volunteering to become delegates? Paul has a puncher’s chance in the Alaska and North Dakota caucuses, but the final results may not come in for days or weeks.
4) Blue States Romney is almost certainly going to win his home state of Massachusetts and nearby Vermont. These aren’t states he is likely to win in November. Do conservatives and the media really give Romney full credit for winning them? Or do they make the argument that Romney isn’t appealing to the heartland, the South and “the coservative wing of the Republican party.” Can Romney turn these victories into something more—a sign that he appeals to independent and more moderate voters?
5) Tennessee, the real test. Santorum, Romney and Gingrich all have a shot of winning the tightly-contested state. The state means something to each of these candidates. If Gingrich wins this state and Georgia, he could say that he is winning the heart of Republican country. A Tennessee victory for Santorum bolsters his argument that he is the most competitive challenger to Romney, and Gingrich should drop out. But a victory for Romney in this state could seal the nomination for him. He’ll have proved he can win in any region of the country, even the deep red parts.
6) Religious voters. Romney is likely to win Idaho, but just as in Arizona and Nevada it is considered part of the Mormon corridor. Will that be another reason to say that he isn’t appealing to the whole party? Or does Romney keep beating Santorum among Santorum’s coreligionists: Catholics. Romney won that demographic in earlier contests in Michigan and Arizona. Super Tuesday may also show once again that Evangelicals are a distinct voting bloc on the GOP. In different states they have turned out for Santorum and Gingrich, even when the majority of non-Evangelical Republicans voted for someone else.
7) Turnout The media will tell us that high turnout means voters are excited for the contest at hand, low turnout means that Republicans hate their choices. But low turnout could signal that many people are simply tired of the contest and have already accepted Romney as their nominee.
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