COLUMBUS, Ohio - There have been plenty of do-or-die moments during the primary season, but this Super Tuesday feels less, well, "super," than the battles that have preceded it.
Mitt Romney's Michigan win last week and follow-up victory in Washington State took the oxygen out of the Santorum balloon. And even a Santorum win in Ohio tonight won't fill it back up.
This is the point in the campaign when math trumps momentum. And math is on Romney's side.
No matter what happens tonight, one thing is clear, it is all but impossible for Santorum to catch Romney in the delegate race. The proportional allocation of the delegates, Santorum's weakness in the primary contests thus far, and Santorum's own inability to qualify for many of these delegates put him behind with no real ability to catch up.
Math was never our strong suit, which is why we asked Josh Putnam, a professor of politics at Davidson College and author of the Frontloading HQ blog to crunch the numbers for us. His analysis: Unless Santorum gets over 50 percent across all of the states on Super Tuesday, it is essentially over.
Santorum's only hope to reaching 1144 delegates - the magic number needed to win the nomination, is to win every single one of the remaining 44 contests - including Romney strongholds like Utah and New Jersey - and win them with at least 50 percent of the vote statewide and in every single congressional district. That is, of course, impossible.
(More on Putnam's math: http://bit.ly/yaln8W)
This doesn't mean that Romney's path to 1144 is a cakewalk. But, do Santorum and Gingrich really want to stick around to simply to stick it to Romney?
As Putnam notes, "It is possible but not probable that Gingrich/Santorum deny Romney the ability to get to 1144. That is a tough argument to take to potential voters; that we can't get to 1144 (and probably can't win a contested convention) but help us keep this guy from getting there."
Moreover, the latest polling from ABC News-Washington Post shows Romney actually improving his favorability among very conservative voters, making an "anybody but Mitt" pitch a tough sell.
By tomorrow morning we are likely to have pivoted to the general election and President Obama, who is holding a press conference at the White House this afternoon, is helping to push it there.
WILL ROMNEY'S OPPONENTS DROP OUT? Given the tough delegate math for Santorum, Gingrich and Paul, ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd asks whether there is much chance any of the three will exit the race before this week is over. His answer: "No, and here's why. Their new strategy after Super Tuesday will be built around the imperative of keeping Romney from winning the needed delegate total. Much like the former defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, Gregg Williams, who paid players a bounty to take out key players from opposing teams, the strategy of Romney's opponents and their super PACs will be to try to take him out and beat him up by June. Santorum and Gingrich may want to damage Romney going into the Republican convention so it looks like he will lose to President Obama. That could prompt uncommitted convention delegates to back away from the front-runner. If they couple that strategy with winning a few states late in the process, like Texas and maybe California, they could make the argument that the Republican Party should consider an alternative to Romney. The probability of success of this plan is low, but for Romney's opponents, it is likely the only available means to "win" post-Super Tuesday." http://abcn.ws/ztM9lZ
Will Romney Put It Away? ABC's Jonathan Karl reported for "Good Morning America" on why Ohio and Tennessee are key to Mitt Romney's strategy of ending the GOP nomination process. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/wV9IW8
VIDEO OF THE DAY: Behind the smiles, the U.S. president and Israeli prime minister don't see eye to eye on the best way to discourage Iran from trying to make a nuclear bomb, ABC's Jake Tapper reports. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/xBAJOO
SANTORUM ON THE GOP RACE: WE'RE WINNING. ABC's Jonathan Karl reports from Ohio: Rick Santorum declared today he is already winning in the battle against Mitt Romney because voters are seeing that Romney's "values are not the values of the Republican party." "We're winning," Santorum said in an interview with ABC News. "Whether we end up with the most votes or not [in Ohio], we're winning." In the face of an onslaught of negative ads in Super Tuesday states like Ohio, Santorum has seen his poll numbers steadily decline over the last week. But he insists he is winning by staying competitive with Romney, who despite a huge financial advantage has failed to energize Republican voters. "The problem is they know his values aren't the values of the people of the Republican Party. As a result they are just sticking by us," Santorum said. Accusing Romney of bullying and pounding him in Ohio, Santorum said not even the David and Goliath analogy is enough to describe what he is up against. "I mean I am being out-spent 12 to 1 in Ohio," Santorum said. "I mean, David and Goliath, I feel that is not even suitable for the amount of pounding that that SuperPac - I mean just negative ad after negative ad, 24-7. Yet here we are hanging in this race, and I just think it shows the real weakness of his candidacy." http://abcn.ws/zjBIVO
NOTED: Santorum gave his final pitch to Ohioans before Super Tuesday this evening by trying to, in part, appeal to their sentimental sides, ABC's Shushannah Walshe and Russell Goldman report: The former Pennsylvania senator became nostalgic about the early days of the campaign in Iowa, when he wasn't even breaking double digits in the polls and he wasn't yet battling with Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination, instead just trying to stay in the race, driving to all 99 counties of Iowa in a volunteer-driven pickup truck. "People have stepped up when all the money, all the big endorsements, all the party chieftains have lined up behind the guy next in line with the most money and the people of America saw a guy from a little steel town in Southwest Pennsylvania go out and take his message on the road in Iowa, driving around in the Chuck Truck, a Dodge Ram pickup with about 200 and some thousand miles on it and we drove around in it," Santorum said to several hundred people, with more waiting out in the cold. "No one would pay much attention to us, but we went out and delivered a strong clear message that we needed a conviction conservative." http://abcn.ws/xECTfa
GINGRICH: ROMNEY WON'T BE THE NOMINEE IF HE CAN'T WIN THE SOUTH. On the eve of Super Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich spent the day flying around Tennessee hoping for a victory in the state as well as in his home state of Georgia, ABC's Elicia Dover notes. At the last event of the day, Gingrich was asked about Mitt Romney's ability to win southern states. "Either he'll figure out how to win the South or he won't be the nominee," Gingrich said. Though the race nationally has shaped into a two-man race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, Gingrich looked past Super Tuesday, saying today on conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity's program that he wants to challenge both candidates to a debate next week. "Tomorrow night, when we have our victory party in Atlanta, I'm going to challenge the candidates to join me in Mississippi or Alabama next week. I think we owe the people of Alabama and Mississippi a debate. They have the right to see us. I don't think Governor Romney can hide behind his Wall Street Money and negative ads," Gingrich said. http://abcn.ws/zaKRyv
ROMNEY FIELDS FLORIDA GROUND TEAM IN OHIO. They helped Mitt Romney win Florida, so why not Ohio too? A group of the Romney campaign's most trusted young political operatives have been working largely under the radar in Ohio since mid-February, putting together a ground game in the state they hope will secure a come-from-behind victory for their candidate in today's primary. The group, which includes Romney's Ohio state director Molly Donlin, senior advisers Brett Doster and Albert Martinez and spokesman Ryan Williams, among others, have been living together in a house in suburban Columbus that they've nicknamed, "Real World Columbus." Donlin, Doster and Martinez, as well as another member of the Ohio field staff, Alex Melendez, are all veterans of Romney's winning Florida operation. Donlin, who also served as Romney's Florida state director, and her colleagues, worked for six months to lay the groundwork for the former Massachusetts's governor's decisive victory in the Sunshine State on Jan. 31. They've had less time to put their organization together in Ohio. But even while Romney was battling back a challenge from Rick Santorum in Michigan, the small group already had a head-start traveling the state to recruit volunteers, set up phone banks, visit local party meetings and Lincoln Day dinners and secure the support of Ohio elected officials and party activists. They were picked to head up Romney's effort in Ohio for an important reason: Much like in Florida, which Donlin said she saw "as five states in one," the Romney campaign has been viewing Ohio through the same lens. http://abcn.ws/z07mu6
NOTED: The Buckeye State is critical to Rick Santorum's chances, as he'll draw on his working-class background in trying to prove, as he's argued all along, that he can win rust-belt states that have voted for Democrats in recent years. But Santorum has little organization in Ohio, the Associated Press notes: "The former senator from neighboring Pennsylvania has a shell of a campaign in Ohio, with no state headquarters and a barebones staff. In Romney he faces a challenger who enjoys a massive cash advantage and a political machine that's produced high-stakes victories in other states when his front-runner status was in doubt." http://apne.ws/At6B13
OBAMA'S OHIO SHADOW CAMPAIGN. ABC's Devin Dwyer reports: Eight months before Election Day, Obama for America is operating at full tilt in Ohio, with a dozen paid staffers overseeing nine field offices across the state, with several more expected to open in the next few months, a campaign official said. The 10th Obama office opens Thursday in Youngstown. When Republican primary voters cast ballots today, Democrats will be manning phone banks and recruiting volunteers for "neighborhood teams," according to postings on the Obama-Biden website. Obama volunteers have already held more than 5,000 organizing events in Ohio since April, engaging more than 650,000 voters, the campaign said. They're using the primary "as a way to sort of oil the machinery for Obama in the general election, which is really smart," said former Michigan Gov. and Obama surrogate Jennifer Granholm. "They have people on the ground everywhere in every state." The president's campaign has also been on the air in Ohio, running a positive30-second TV spot touting Obama's record on ethics and energy, while campaign staff have held conference calls and published memos attacking Romney on the auto bailout, tax cuts and manufacturing and trade policy. No candidate for president since 1960 has won the White House without carrying Ohio. And while Obama carried the state with 52 percent of the vote in 2008, polls show him now locked in a dead heat with likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney. http://abcn.ws/xnKDQG
RON PAUL PINS HOPES ON NORTH DAKOTA. Ron Paul's best chance for his first 2012 victory may come today in North Dakota which is holding its caucus later this afternoon, ABC's Jason Volack reports.The congressman will be in Fargo later today, his third visit to North Dakota in the primary season, following a February tour of the state and an event in Fargo last November. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have also visited North Dakota, while former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has not. Four years ago on Super Tuesday 2008, Romney easily won North Dakota's GOP caucuses, getting 36 percent of the vote in a five-candidate field. Although Paul was third, with 21 percent, he fared better in North Dakota than he did in almost all of the 20 other states that held Republican primaries or caucuses. Matt Becker, a spokesman for the North Dakota GOP reportedly said that the demographics of North Dakota play to Paul's strengths and Paul's North Dakota operation has been the most extensive of any of the four GOP candidates. Paul's state headquarters, tucked into a small Bismarck office across the street from the city's federal courthouse, has been running for almost four months.
PRIMARY STATE SPEED READ
by ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield and Chris Good
-Ohio Still Too Close to Call. Ohio is the major Super Tuesday battleground, and the latest polls offer contradictory signs of who will win. The most recent surveys all show the race within a couple percentage points, between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes. http://bit.ly/yoRf4b
-Poll: Gingrich Leads GOP Rivals, Ties with Obama in Georgia. CNN's latest numbers show the former House speaker in a commanding, 23-percentage-point lead heading into Super Tuesday's vote in his home state. Gingrich leads with 47 percent; Mitt Romney (24 percent), Rick Santorum (15 percent), and Ron Paul (9 percent) trail. In putative general-election polling Gingrich ties with President Obama 48-48. http://bit.ly/wX7q76
-Cain, Watts Stump for Gingrich in Oklahoma. Rick Santorum is expected to win Oklahoma by a wide margin today, but Newt Gingrich got some help in that state from Herman Cain and former Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts, who campaigned for him in the state on Monday as part of a "$2.50 Gas Tour." http://bit.ly/ApnfIE
-Big Turnout in Massachusetts? Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin is predicting a turnout of 400,000 at Massachusetts polls today. The state is expected to vote overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney. http://b.globe.com/AADIX8
- Tight In Tennessee: In Tennessee, polling indicates a tight race is in store tonight, perhaps even a too close to call outcome, the Tennessean suggests. http://tnne.ws/zIIzrJ
- As Goes Oklahoma… Oklahoma, another Super Tuesday state, could serve as a warm-up act for a bigger delegate prize down the road: Texas. The Dallas Morning News explains, "given the strong historical and cultural ties between Oklahoma and Texas - first and foremost, a fiercely conservative electorate - the Sooner State might offer the Republican field the best blueprint for success south of the Red River." http://dallasne.ws/xwCKlt
STATES AND POLL CLOSING TIMES, courtesy of ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield. There are 10 states holding voting contests today: Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota will hold caucuses, while Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia will hold primaries. There are 437 delegates at stake tonight in these 10 contests. In addition, there will be another 5 delegates allotted in Wyoming, which is allocating its delegates in stages, Super Tuesday being the first (the next will be this coming Saturday, March 10)
Alaska : 27 delegates at stake. Polls close at midnight.
Georgia : 76 delegates at stake. Polls close at 7 p.m. ET.
Idaho : 32 delegates at stake. Polls close at 10 p.m. ET.
Massachusetts : 41 delegates at stake. Polls close at 8 p.m. ET.
North Dakota : 28 delegates at stake. Polls close at 10 p.m. ET.
Ohio : 66 delegates at stake. Polls close at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Oklahoma : 43 delegates at stake. Polls close at 8 p.m. ET.
Tennessee : 58 delegates at stake. Polls close at 8 p.m. ET.
Vermont : 17 delegates at stake. Polls close at 7 p.m. ET.
Virginia : 49 delegates at stake. Polls close at 7 p.m. ET. (Only two candidates- Ron Paul and Mitt Romney- are on the ballot - and Virginia does not allow write-ins.)
- Mitt Romney will address the AIPAC National Policy Conference via satellite Tuesday morning. Then, Romney travels to Massachusetts to vote in his home state. After voting in Belmont, Romney will head to the Westin Copley Place for his Super Tuesday Party.
- Rick Santorum will start his day in Washington DC speaking at the AIPAC National Policy Conference. Santorum then heads to the Super Tuesday state Ohio for his party at Steubenville High School in Steubenville, Ohio.
- Newt Gingrich holds a number of campaign events in Georgia and Alabama before heading to Atlanta for his Super Tuesday Night Party. Gingrich will also address the AIPAC National Policy Conference via satellite earlier in the day.
- Ron Paul campaigns in Idaho with a Town Hall in Nampa. Paul will also campaign in North Dakota on Tuesday speaking at a Fargo Caucus location.
-ABC's Josh Haskell (@HaskellBuzz)
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