TheDC’s Jamie Weinstein: The best and worst case scenarios on Super Tuesday

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Over 400 delegates are up for grabs in primaries and caucuses across 10 states Tuesday.

Since all the states operate on some type of proportional award system (unless a candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote in some cases), the delegate count is likely to be widely split.

But at this point in the primaries, the perceptual effect of winning states can often be as important as the delegates a candidate wins — though those are certainly important as well.

The best case scenario for any candidate, of course, would be to sweep all ten states. But that doesn’t seem particularly likely to happen. So here is a breakdown of the best (and worst) case scenarios for each candidate on this Super-est of Tuesdays.

Mitt Romney

Romney has gone from being the inevitable candidate to a man on the ropes. But after winning Michigan, Arizona and Washington in the last week, the momentum is again in his court. He also has a solid lead in the delegate count.

In a best case scenario, Romney would pull off a win in Ohio Tuesday, in addition to Massachusetts, Virginia and various other sundry states. Ohio is seen as especially significant because it is a crucial swing state in the general election. No candidate has won the presidency since 1964 without winning Ohio.

Perhaps most importantly, another come-from-behind win against Santorum would be demoralizing to the former Pennsylvania senator. It would also poke holes in Santorum’s narrative that he can attract and excite white working class voters. If Romney beats Santorum in Ohio, it will suggest that Santorum can’t attract those voters in high enough numbers to actually win states where those voters exist in large numbers.

Romney probably isn’t in the business of wishing good things to happen to Newt Gingrich, but on Tuesday he should hope that the former speaker wins Georgia, especially if Santorum beats him in Ohio.

What may be the worst realistic possible scenario for Romney is for Santorum to defeat him in Ohio and for Gingrich to lose Georgia, perhaps even if it is Romney who wins the Peach State. If Newt loses Georgia, he very possibly could drop out of the race since it is hard to imagine what Gingrich’s path to victory is if he can’t even win the state he represented in Congress for two decades.

The reason this would be such a terrible scenario for Romney is that if Gingrich dropped out, Santorum would be the last significant anti-Romney candidate in the race and would be able to completely consolidate that vote for the first time. Being able to do so with the momentum gained from a big win in Ohio would be all the worse for Romney.

Rick Santorum

As previously explained, the two best things that could happen for Santorum on Tuesday would be for him to defeat Romney in Ohio and Gingrich in Georgia, though he is a distant third in the polls in the Peach State. Even a Romney victory over Gingrich in Georgia could potentially be good news for Santorum, though Romney is currently just a slightly less distant second to Gingrich in the state, according to polls.

But if Gingrich dropped out as a result of a Georgia loss and Santorum won Ohio (as well as possibly Oklahoma, Tennessee and maybe even other states), Santorum could use those wins to propel himself forward, but now as the only serious anti-Romney candidate left.

It would be quite a challenge for Romney to deal with a surging Santorum without Gingrich in the race to split the anti-Romney vote.

Newt Gingrich

Newt is a long shot at this point. He hasn’t won (or even come close to winning) a state since South Carolina. On Tuesday, he needs to win Georgia. If he can’t win the state he represented in Congress, there is no reason for him to stay in the race. The good news for Gingrich is that polls indicate he has a big lead over both Romney and Santorum in the state.

The best case scenario for Gingrich would be for him to win Georgia big and pull off surprising wins in states like Oklahoma and Tennessee. Gingrich needs to once again become the marquis anti-Romney candidate in the race. That could begin to happen Tuesday, but it may be a double-edged sword. If Romney trounces Santorum in state after state Tuesday, it may help Gingrich again become the premier anti-Romney in the race, but he would now be challenging a Romney who is once again approaching “inevitable candidate” status.

Ron Paul

Ron Paul has no path to the nomination. He has a strategy to pick up delegates, but there is no scenario under which that strategy could result in him being the GOP nominee — even if a meteor knocked out his other Republican rivals. (RELATED: TheDC’s Jamie Weinstein: Ron Paul’s path to the nomination)

Despite protests by the Texas congressman to the contrary, Paul is a message candidate. The best case scenario for him is to continue to pick up delegates so he can try to ultimately leverage them for a prime time speaking spot at the Republican Convention. It would also be nice for him if he could finally win a state in some remote caucus that no one is paying attention to Tuesday, like Alaska or Idaho. But that probably won’t happen — in 2008, Romney won big in Alaska and John McCain trounced Paul in Idaho.

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