op-ed

My predictions for Super Tuesday

Robert O'Brien Former US Representative to the UN

On Tuesday, the Republican nominating process moves into high gear with contests in 10 states. Mitt Romney, who has pulled off five straight wins, has the momentum. That momentum is reflected in the latest Gallup tracking poll, which puts Romney up by 16 points over Rick Santorum. Here are my predictions for your Super Tuesday office pool.

Romney’s sure wins

Massachusetts (41 delegates): Romney was the Bay State’s governor and remains very popular there. Polls show Romney leading by 20 points. He will win the primary handily.

Vermont (17 delegates): Like its neighbors, New Hampshire and Maine, the Green Mountain State will reward fellow New Englander Romney with a solid win in its primary.

Idaho (32 delegates): The West has proven to be an electoral fortress for Romney. My sources in the Gem State tell me that Romney voters are highly motivated to turn out for Mitt. Such enthusiasm is critical in a caucus state. Like its neighbors Nevada, Arizona, Washington and Wyoming, Idaho will be in the Romney column.

Virginia (49 delegates): Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich failed to qualify for the Virginia ballot. This is ironic as they have both lived in Virginia during their lobbying years. The Old Dominion primary is a two-man race between Romney and Paul, with Romney leading 69% to 26% in this weekend’s NBC/Marist poll.

Gingrich’s sure win

Georgia (76 delegates): Gingrich represented Georgia in Congress for 20 years. He has placed all of his Super Tuesday eggs in the Peach State primary basket and declared that it is a “must win” for him. Gingrich maintains a sizable 14-point lead over Romney in the Mason-Dixon poll even though he has been out of the national spotlight for weeks. The Romney campaign is, however, active in Georgia; it’s looking to pick up delegates, especially from Atlanta’s suburban congressional districts.

Santorum’s likely win

Oklahoma (43 delegates): The Oklahoma primary is tailor-made for Santorum, who has done well in the Midwest. Social conservatives make up a large proportion of the Sooner State’s voters and will likely reward Santorum’s relentless focus on their issues. The Real Clear Politics polling average puts Santorum up by 20 points. Those polls do not, however, take into account Senator Tom Coburn’s Sunday endorsement of Romney or Romney’s recent winning streak.

Paul’s possible upsets

North Dakota (28 delegates): Voter turnout will be low in this caucus, which could be a boon to Ron Paul’s activists, who brave rain, sleet and snow to caucus for their movement’s leader. A further wrinkle results from the Flickertail State’s wide-open caucus process, which allows Democrats to participate in the GOP contest. The Daily Kos has mounted a web campaign to get its supporters to caucus for Santorum. But once in the caucus halls, they could end up being swayed by Paul’s passionate anti-war platform.

Alaska (27 delegates): Alaska is ideally suited for Paul’s libertarian philosophy as well as his organizational focus on caucus states. In 2008, fewer than 14,000 voters turned out for the contest, which Romney won. In this cycle, only Paul has campaigned in the Last Frontier State. Romney could pull off a surprise victory by doing well among the establishment-minded Republicans should they turn out. Momentum from wins in east coast time zones could also help Romney in Alaska, where the caucuses end at midnight Eastern Time.

The tossups

Tennessee (58 delegates): As late as last week, Santorum was leading Romney 40% to 19% in the Volunteer State. Now the ARG poll has Romney down by just four points, 35% to 31%. Sensing an opportunity to pull off a come-from-behind win, Romney attended a rally in Knoxville on Sunday.

Ohio (66 delegates): The Buckeye State will be the most-watched contest on Super Tuesday. Much of the media coverage for Super Tuesday will originate from Columbus. Prior to losing the Michigan primary, Santorum maintained a sizable lead over Romney. It has now evaporated and every pundit believes the race is a dead heat. If Santorum cannot win Ohio, an industrial state that borders his native Pennsylvania, staying in the race could be problematic.

A final note on delegates

While the media will focus on the horse race aspect of Super Tuesday by tallying the number of states won by each candidate, the political insiders will be counting delegates. Romney goes into the day with an advantage due to the Virginia primary and his big lead in Massachusetts. Moreover, Romney is competitive everywhere and will likely take delegate hauls even in the states he does not win. Santorum goes into the day with a disadvantage. In addition to his Virginia debacle, Santorum failed to file a full slate of delegates in Ohio, which could cost him as many as 18 delegates. He also failed to file a full slate of delegates in Tennessee. He could win the popular vote in both states but lose the delegate race. I estimate that Romney will win over 200 delegates and could take half of all delegates awarded. If so, Romney will be the nominee.

Robert C. O’Brien is a partner in a national law firm in Los Angeles. He served as a U.S. Representative to the U.N. and advises Republican presidential candidate former Mitt Romney on foreign policy. The views herein are his own. Robert’s website is: www.robertcobrien.com. Follow him on Twitter @robertcobrien.