Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the popular vote in Michigan on Tuesday night, and all of Arizona’s 29 delegates. His team can breathe a sigh of relief that whatever damage it took to get here, he’s still the leader for the Republican presidential nomination.
But while Romney might be two steps closer to Tampa, he’s not anywhere near out of the woods. The campaign now takes a dangerous turn for his camp — to the South.
Super Tuesday is a smaller affair this cycle than last. Much smaller, actually — California, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York were huge anchors of the 23 Democratic contests and 21 on the Republican side. Next week eleven states will hold their GOP votes, among them the Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Massachusetts primaries as the major sources of delegates, along with caucuses in Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Vermont has the fewest number of delegates at stake with 17, and only two candidates will have the opportunity to pick up Virginia’s votes, as Romney and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) are the only candidates on the ballot. In total, 419 delegates are up for grabs.
Polling at the moment shows problems for Romney everywhere. The biggest fight looks to be over Ohio and its 66 delegates (1144 are needed to secure the nomination), where Romney has been in a more traditional fight by 2012 cycle standards, the former governor unable shake the various GOP flavors of the month. Here’s what the trend looks like over the last three months.
The contest with the most delegates, Georgia’s 76, is an entirely different matter for Romney. There he has to fight off both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose congressional district was in Georgia, and Santorum, who has been attracting support there from the right wing. Romney has actually never held a lead in a poll of the state’s Republican contest, so becoming the consensus choice was likely his only hope to take it.
Check out the trend over the last month, as Santorum has surpassed Romney for second place (out of four candidates).
But the real issues, the systematic ones for the Romney campaign, come in places like Tennessee and Oklahoma. Gingrich has a homefield advantage in Georgia, while Santorum will fight tooth and nail for Ohio, a rust belt state with a lost manufacturing base where the former Pennsylvania lawmaker will find friendly conservative audiences. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) will be off in the caucus states hyping up his activist base. And Romney, multi-millionaire and the former governor of the bluest state in the nation, will be stuck trying to woo conservatives in two rural southern states, where Santorum has the lead in lighting polling of each state.
Of course, Romney will now have momentum coming off of Tuesday’s wins and his poll numbers will likely see a bounce, just as every winner in the 2012 cycle so far. But the overall problem lies in the simple trend that has been true since the first votes were cast in Iowa. Romney has a problem getting conservative support in the Republican primary.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney had a great night on Tuesday. He won the most delegates, and he stopped a potential PR disaster that the media seemed all too ready to perpetuate if he had lost the state he grew up in. But it only marginally changes the political calculus for Super Tuesday — and the battle now expands to a much bigger map.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.