Primary Calendar: Where Will Romney Take His Momentum?

(Image Credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

Mitt Romney logged a big win in Florida on Tuesday, and the next stretch of states could favor him heavily.

We're now entering a dead zone in primary season: After the string of early primaries and caucuses in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida, the race moves on to a string of caucus states that, in most cases, either won't award their delegates to any candidate or will award them later at state and congressional-district conventions. Those states are likely to attract less time, money, and individualized focus from the campaigns-and less attention from the media. The next traditional primaries, in Arizona and Michigan, will be held on Feb. 28.

Romney won all of those upcoming caucus states in 2008, excluding Missouri, where a February straw-poll primary has been deprioritized by the state party in favor of new March caucuses.

Ron Paul has kept an eye on the upcoming stretch of caucus states, and he's the only candidate to devote significant attention to them early on in the campaign. Paul has  bet big on Nevadaaired a TV ad in Minnesota, campaigned in Maine, and  sent out mailers in Nevada, Maine, and Colorado-all part of his long-term strategy.

Rick Santorum campaigned in Missouri this week, and the pro-Santorum superPAC Red White and Blue Fund released a new TV ad for that state today. Romney, meanwhile, figures to make a strong showing in Minnesota with the help of former governor Tim Pawlenty, a Romney endorser and national Romney campaign co-chair.

What's Next?

Here's what we have to look forward to, after Florida:

  • Feb. 4 - Nevada caucuses. Worth 28 delegates, divided proportionally according to the statewide vote. Nevada hasn't gotten much attention from candidates or media; no major poll has been conducted there since December, when the  Las Vegas Review Journal showed Mitt Romney with a slight lead, and no major polling agency has surveyed the state during primary season. 2008 results: Romney 51 percent, Paul 14 percent, John McCain 13 percent.
  • Feb. 4 - 11 - Maine caucuses. "Vacationland" will hold its caucuses over the course of a week-but those are just the suggested dates for precincts. The state's 24 delegates won't be allocated and will be free to support any candidate at the GOP convention, giving candidates little incentive to campaign in Maine. No major polling firm has surveyed in the state recently. 2008 results: Romney 52 percent, McCain 22 percent, Paul 18 percent.
  • Feb. 7 - Minnesota caucuses. Though Minnesota will send 40 delegates to the Republican National Convention, none of this state's delegates will be allocated to any candidate either. As in Iowa, the best a candidate can hope for is to win enough congressional-district and state-convention delegates to influence the selection of individual delegates later. No major polling firm has surveyed in Minnesota recently. 2008 results: Romney 41 percent, McCain 22 percent, Paul 16 percent.
  • Feb. 7 - Colorado caucuses. Worth 36 delegates, Colorado will allocate them later at its congressional district and state conventions. As in Iowa, the Feb. 7 caucuses will elect delegates to those conventions. No major polling firms have surveyed Colorado recently. 2008 results: Romney 60 percent, McCain 18 percent, Mike Huckabee 13 percent.
  • Feb. 9 - 29 - Wyoming caucuses. Like Maine, Wyoming will let its precincts hold caucuses within a date range. The Wyoming Republican Party will announce the statewide results on Feb. 29, but they won't have anything to do with the state's 29 delegates, which will be required to state their candidate preferences before being elected Wyoming's state convention. They'll be bound to their candidate choices by word only, not by state law or party rules. 2008 results: Romney 67 percent, Fred Thompson 25 percent, Duncan Hunter eight percent.
  • Feb. 28 - Arizona primary. Finally-another simple primary state. Arizona will likely draw more focus from candidates than all of the February states preceding it. Like Florida, it will award all of its 29 delegates to the statewide winner, and, like Florida, it lost half its delegates after breaking the new RNC rules prohibiting its early primary date and winner-take-all allocation scheme. 2008 results: McCain 47 percent, Romney 35 percent, Huckabee nine percent.
  • Feb. 28 - Michigan primary. Another relatively simple primary state, Michigan will award its 30 delegates proportionally (based on both percent totals and congressional-district winners). Like Florida and Arizona, Michigan was penalized by the RNC. 2008 results: Romney 39 percent, McCain 30 percent, Huckabee 16 percent.
  • March 6 - Super Tuesday. Super Tuesday is the biggest event on the medium-term primary horizon. After Washington holds its caucuses on March 3, 10 states will vote, accounting for 437 delegates. After Super Tuesday, states making up over 35 percent of all delegates (72 percent of the delegates needed to win the nomination) will have finished voting.
  • June 5 - California primary. If Republicans are still campaigning against each other in early June, Californians will cast their potentially decisive votes second-to-last; Utah will end the primary season with its June 26 contest. California will award more national delegates (169) than any other state. 2008 results: McCain 42 percent, Romney 35 percent, Huckabee 12 percent.

Delegate Math: How Long Will This Thing Take?

With his win in Florida, Romney picked up the most delegates (50) awarded by any state so far

Right now, Romney leads the delegate race with 71 of 2,286 total and 1,144 needed to win the nomination. Mathematically at least, Republicans are still a long way from selecting a nominee, but the delegate race is starting to take shape, as Romney's estimated delegate total more than triples Gingrich's.

Romney's 71 delegates include the seven he won in New Hampshire, the two he won in South Carolina, and the 12 unbound Iowa delegates ABC News estimates will support him, based on the caucus vote results there.

Gingrich trails him with 23 delegates, and ABC News estimates Santorum will receive the support of 13 unbound Iowa delegates. Ron Paul has three total.

Given that Gingrich could sway those Iowa votes later in the campaign, Romney technically only has 59 delegates, and Santorum has zero.

Mathematically, no candidate will be able to seal the nomination before April. Barring a clean sweep of the next few states, it's unlikely any candidate will be able to win the delegate race outright before May.

Approaching Clarity?

Delegates will pick the winner-not state wins, polls, or fundraising. As momentum mounts for Romney, his opponents are left to make an easy argument about process: It's a long race, so let's see what the other states have to say. Romney has only won two of the states that have voted so far, New Hampshire and Florida.

The March 6 Super Tuesday vote, however, can pull the delegate race into focus, tipping the scales toward Romney or back toward his opponents. Super Tuesday will see 10 states vote, accounting for more delegates than all the states leading up to that day. After Super Tuesday, results will have been tallied in states accounting for 820 delegates (72 percent of the 1144 a candidate will need to win). Enough of those delegates will be allocated proportionally-or will remain unbound-that a landslide win is less likely, but a strong performance on March 6 could still give Romney a big lead, or provide a solid comeback boost to Gingrich, Santorum, or Paul.

If one candidate sweeps the pre-Super Tuesday states, the momentum will be clear heading into March 6. If not, that day should offer some general primary clarity.