Super Tuesday: A Review

Super Tuesday has come and gone, to little fanfare. In past elections, this was the decisive point in the presidential campaigns where the eventual nominee was decided, but as with the Democratic presidential contest in 2008, it did not end this year’s Republican nomination contest. Sure, Mitt Romney won the most states and delegates, and it is now extremely unlikely any of his opponents will muster up enough support to surpass him, but the fundamental course of this race has not changed: it will drag on, and Republican voters will hold off on embracing Romney as long as possible.

In truth, this was a not-so-super-Tuesday for Mitt Romney. Consider some of the states he won: Massachusetts, the state in which he served as governor; Virginia, a state where only he and Ron Paul were on the ballot, and in spite of that Ron Paul managed to garner 40.5 percent of the vote, the most he’s ever had so far in this race; Ohio, which Romney only took by 0.8 percent, and for most of the night was trailing Rick Santorum. Discounting Virginia because of the unusual ballot issue, Romney did not win any Southern states. Victories in Vermont (another New England state that Romney was expected to carry), Alaska, Idaho and Wyoming do not exactly inspire confidence in Mr. Romney. In every other “competitive” race, Romney lost to Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich (and as previously mentioned, barely won in the case of Ohio).

The frontrunner typically has the benefit of eliminating one of the weaker candidates after dominating Super Tuesday. This year, the candidate that performed most poorly was Newt Gingrich (I am not counting Ron Paul, since he is simply gathering delegates in every state possible and is not considered likely to win the nomination anyway). Gingrich won only a single state, and it was his home state of Georgia. In spite of coming in third or worse in every other state that night, Gingrich is still in the race. In part this is because of his billionaire backer, but it’s also a result of the primary calendar. Romney’s lack of Southern skills will harm him in the upcoming races, most of which are Southern states. Gingrich and Santorum will fight for those states, and Romney will just have to wait for one of them to fizzle out.

Another unfortunate factor for Romney was the lack of winner-takes-all states available on Super Tuesday. I actually prefer proportional allocation of delegates, but it doesn’t make for a quick and decisive nomination process. As a result, even when he won a state, Romney had to share the spoils with his opponents. And when the supposed “inevitable” candidate regularly wins key states (like Michigan and Ohio) by a plurality, and the combined vote share of his opponents is larger than his own vote share, there is a serious problem. If nothing else, this demonstrates the wide scope of the anti-Romney vote, a sign of his weakness within his own party. No decent challenger to an incumbent president can afford to have such an unenthusiastic response to his candidacy.

Of course, the Republican base will eventually accept their eventual nominee and vote for him, even if they hold their noses while doing it, but some of these candidates have really devoted followers. Ron Paul has the fewest votes in this contest, but they’re unlikely to vote for Romney anyway. It is the supporters of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich that may similarly decide not to turn out in November.

Assuming that the reason for voting is simply to remove President Obama, Romney is likely to do fairly well. But the voters in the Republican primaries continuously cite concerns with conservative values and principles, and when this is their primary concern Romney is not their first choice. Most experts expect the presidential election of 2012 to be close. If the race is going to be decided by a small number of votes, anything can affect the outcome. A lack of enthusiasm on the part of Republicans for their candidate could be the deciding factor.

 

Kerry Wakely is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at kwakely@uci.edu.