March 6, 2012 in Nation/World

GOP hopefuls look for Super Tuesday boost

Republican candidates battle for delegates, but day’s outcome unlikely to seal fate
Paul West, Maeve Reston Maeve Reston

WASHINGTON – For the Republican presidential candidates, Super Tuesday is just another election day in a long primary slog that isn’t about to end.

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum campaigned Monday across Ohio, a general-election battleground that has become a focal point of a day of primaries and caucuses in 10 states. But the outcomes won’t resolve the GOP fight.

Four years ago, John McCain gained more than half the delegates needed to win the nomination on Super Tuesday, when 21 states voted, including giants such as California and New York. Romney dropped out two days later and the race was effectively over.

But this time, with less than half as many contests and new rules that award delegates to losing candidates, Super Tuesday lacks its former heft. Even a best-case scenario for Romney has the Republican front-runner increasing his delegate total by the end of the night to barely 40 percent of the number needed for the nomination.

“We’re looking for a good day,” said Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, predicting that the former Massachusetts governor would win a majority of the delegates.

As Super Tuesday neared, both men honed their focus: Romney as fixer of the economy, Santorum as passionate underdog.

In Cantol, Romney said: “I’ve worked in business. I understand what it takes to get a business successful and to thrive. I understand how it is that government gets in the way.”

Santorum told supporters and students at a Miamisburg, Ohio, Christian school that “we’re here for a reason: because I’m experienced, I’m principled, I’m values, I’m energy, enthusiasm and grit.”

Romney is favored in his home state of Massachusetts and next-door Vermont; in Idaho, which has a large Mormon population; and in Virginia, where Santorum and Newt Gingrich live but where they failed to qualify for the ballot.

All three trailing candidates are expected to remain in the race, regardless of what happens today.

Santorum, still trying to emerge as the conservative alternative, needs victories in Oklahoma and Tennessee to sustain him. If he manages an upset win in Ohio, it would greatly complicate Romney’s efforts to pull away from the pack. But late polling there reveals a familiar pattern: an overwhelming barrage of negative advertising from the Romney forces obliterated Santorum’s early lead, making it much tougher for the former senator from neighboring Pennsylvania.

“No matter what the result is here in Ohio, we’re going to feel great that we stood tall,” Santorum said during a conference call. He remained certain, he said, that he would emerge as the “one conviction conservative” in the race.

But Gingrich continues to stand in his way. The former House speaker barnstormed Georgia, which he represented in Congress, for most of the past week, virtually assuring him a victory in what he says is a must-win primary.

Thus far, Gingrich has won just one state, South Carolina. But propped up by a super PAC funded largely by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Gingrich is already pointing toward primaries next week in Alabama and Mississippi, where Romney isn’t expected to win. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, the only candidate without a victory, is pinning his hopes on picking up delegates, particularly in caucus states. He made a round of last-minute stops Monday in Idaho.

“This is a delegate contest now,” said Fehrnstrom, the Romney spokesman. “More important than winning this state or that state is achieving the requisite number of delegates to achieve the nomination.”

A total of 1,144 delegates will secure the nomination. According to the most recent Associated Press count, Romney has 203 delegates, Santorum has 92, Gingrich is next with 33 and Paul has 25. On Tuesday, 437 delegates are at stake.

At several points in the GOP primary season, now in its third month, analysts and strategists have declared the race effectively over, only to see Romney falter and a challenger emerge.

Some regard Tuesday as another potential turning point, with the rest of the campaign riding on the results in a few key states.

“Does Romney really put it away, or is he going to have to slog it out? Is he really fighting for delegates going forward, or is he just going through the perfunctory motions to become the nominee? Those are really the questions for me,” said Sara Taylor Fagen, a White House political aide in George W. Bush’s administration.

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