With Mitt Romney's easy win in Washington state, the narrative of the race is framing quite well for him heading into Super Tuesday. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was in the camp of many others in suggesting that Romney was in real trouble.
Here are 9 things to watch on Tuesday:
Mitt's margin in Virginia
Romney will almost certainly win Virginia in his two-man race against Ron Paul. The question is the margin and how it is perceived. The optics of Ron Paul holding Romney to 59-41 are much worse than 61-39. A "close" race here would play into the narrative that Romney can't seal the deal, even when the race is winnowed to he and a "fringe" candidate.
Can Newt win outside Georgia?
Recent polls show Newt Gingrich winning by a large margin in his home state of Georgia. But he won't likely get much momentum or credit for doing it because of his own framing of home state wins being a given. He's also focused on Tennessee where a win could change the narrative around his campaign and set him up for a come back in Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama that vote the following week. If he can only win in his home state, then it is hard to see how his campaign continues.
Can Mitt win in the south?
Romney is favoured in Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia and Idaho. Though he won in Florida, he hasn't won in the more traditional conservative south in either 2008 or 2012. Despite momentum coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire, he was crushed in South Carolina. Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma all vote on Super Tuesday. Wins in any of these states would end the narrative that Mitt can't win the base and put him well on the path to sealing the deal.
Who places second in Oklahoma?
Rick Santorum is heavily favoured according to polls in this state. If Newt places second here, it is a sign of life for his campaign. If Romney does, it is a sign of strength outside of his comfort zone.
Who places second in Georgia?
Newt is heavily favoured to win Georgia. Romney is making a last minute campaign stop here in the hopes that he can place second and therefore show strength in the south.
Will Paul win a state?
Paul has a chance at winning North Dakota and/or Alaska and an outside chance in Idaho (where Romney is favoured). We've heard this before in Maine and Washington, but Ron Paul could rack up his first statewide win on Tuesday.
Who wins the night?
There are 10 contests. Romney is favoured in 4, Newt and Santorum in 1 each. Four others are toss ups. It is highly unlikely that any candidate could sweep those four remaining states (Alaska, North Dakota, Ohio and Tennessee) which means Romney will win or tie in number of states won - the question is can he take one of North Dakota and Alaska, and Ohio and win a majority?
Do either Gingrich or Santorum drop out?
If Gingrich wins Georgia just narrowly and doesn't come close anywhere else, it is hard to see how he can continue. If Santorum doesn't win Ohio, I'd say he is also in trouble, unless he takes both Oklahoma and Tennessee, and places a strong second in Ohio and Georgia which seems unlikely. However, would either of them drop out and endorse the other in a last ditch effort to stop Romney? This also seems unlikely.
Who wins Ohio?
Though Georgia has the most delegates at stake, Ohio is the focus because it is more competitive. (Though I'm surprised there isn't more attention for Tennessee which has almost as many delegates as well - these states have 76, 66 and 58 respectively.) The media focus will be almost exclusively on this race. If Santorum wins, he'll again be portrayed as the man who might beat Romney, if he loses it is hard to see how he regains momentum. If Romney wins and Gingrich finishes respectfully in addition to winning Georgia and Tennessee, it could set the stage for a major rebound.