The short break in the 2012 Republican primary calendar has come and gone; Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia hold their primaries on Tuesday.
98 delegates are at-stake in the three contests, which fall at a pivotal moment in the campaign, as Romney gathers up establishment support and begins to look more and more like the inevitable nominee. A clean sweep on Tuesday night would further solidify this perception. A Santorum upset on the other hand, would give a jolt to Santorum's campaign and perhaps make Romney's "inevitable nominee" status look, well, not quite so inevitable.
Here are five important things to note about the three contests.
1.) The delegate math will strongly favor the winner.
A total of 98 delegates are at stake on Tuesday: 42 in Wisconsin, 19 in D.C., and 37 in Maryland. The District of Columbia's primary is winner-take-all, meaning that whoever receives the highest percentage of the vote gets all of the delegates.
Maryland and Wisconsin are both winner-take-all by congressional district. The allotment scheme in Maryland and Wisconsin allows the second-place finisher potentially to score a couple of delegates here or there if he is able to carry any congressional districts, but for the most part the winner of the state will get a big majority of the state's delegates.
2.) Wisconsin is the big prize.
Although Wisconsin does not have a lot more delegates than Maryland, it's the primary Tuesday that matters the most as far as perception is concerned. Just look at the candidates' schedules over the past 10 days since the Illinois primary, and this becomes very clear. Candidates have spent far more time in Wisconsin than in Maryland or D.C.
Maryland and D.C. are both blue states. In the general election they will be virtually ignored because they are easily assumed to be Obama wins. Their victories bring no trump cards. Wisconsin is viewed as a swing state. Obama carried it in 2008, but the state has one Republican Senator, a Republican Governor and a mixed Congressional delegation.
3.) Money, Money, Money.
Candidates and their allies have poured serious change into the Wisconsin airwaves. Romney and his allies have spent upwards of $3.1 million on TV ad buys, according to a source tracking GOP ad buys. For comparison, Santorum and his allies have spent roughly $717,000 on TV ad buys, a margin of about 4:1.
Romney and Santorum aren't alone on the airwaves. The Super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich- Winning Our Future- made a small ad buy in the Badger state- $120,381, according to their FEC filings.
Though it's much smaller than the amount spent in Wisconsin, the pro-Romney Restore Our Future Super PAC has also spent money in Maryland. The group has spent $436,204 on ad buys in the state, according to their FEC filings.
4) All signs point to Romney.
Polling indicates that Romney is ripe to sweep Wisconsin and Maryland. There has been no polling in Washington, D.C., though the assumption is that he'll carry the district as well. After all, he seems to be the establishment favorite. What's more establishment than D.C.? Plus, Santorum failed to qualify for the ballot in the District of Columbia, so his name will not appear as an option for voters.
5) But don't look for the rest of the field to bow out Wednesday.
Rick Santorum has pledged to fight on until his home state of Pennsylvania holds its primary on April 24th. Newt Gingrich appears to be committed to staying in the race until Romney reaches 1,144 delegates - the number needed to secure the nomination. And then there's Ron Paul, who shows no signs of slowing down.
If the current polling holds and Romney is able to sweep all three primaries, he would increase his already strong delegate lead, making it almost impossible, mathematically speaking, for the other candidates to catch up to him. However, just as likely, he'll continue to share the field for the foreseeable future.