After the American Century
Once upon a time there were real party conventions, where the nomination was not a coronation that had been scripted in detail for television. There was, for example, the magnificent competition between seven Democrats for the 1960 nomination, which was not settled on the first ballot, as usually happens today. John F. Kennedy emerged as the candidate then. Almost as exciting have been the wide open primary battles, like that in 1992, when the at first unlikely Bill Clinton emerged as the candidate.
The question to be answered tomorrow is whether we might be in for a wide open convention, or whether the nomination is more likely to be wrapped up sooner. Super Tuesday, with its many simultaneous elections, is at the least intended to narrow down the field. In short, will Gingrich or Paul decide later in the week that they should step aside? Or will all four candidates continue to battle for delegates?
Right now, Santorum and Romney are in a dead heat in the all-important Ohio Primary. Each has almost exactly one third of the votes, with the other third divided between Gingrich and Paul. Romney and Santorum are also running neck and neck in Tennessee. Santorum is further ahead in North Carolina, but I have not seen enough polls for that state yet.
In contrast, some states are walkovers. Santorum seems certain to win by a wide margin in Oklahoma. Gingrich seems certain to win his home state of Georgia, with none of the other candidates coming within 20 points of his c. 44%. Romney seems equally certain to run away with a victory in Massachusetts, his home state. Romney will also win Virginia in a walk because neither Gingrich nor Santorum got on the ballot.
There are other states involved too, but the pattern seems clear. Right now it looks as though both Romney and Santorum will win some states, while Gingrich will only take Georgia. Ron Paul will not win any states at all, but he will pick up some delegates nevertheless. When the dust settles on Wednesday morning, it seems unlikely that Romney will suddenly be in a commanding position, though he will probably remain in the lead in terms of convention delegates.
If something like this is the result, then Super Tuesday will not decide anything. Romney will remain determined to grind down his opponents through superior organization and negative advertising. It has defeated all the challengers so far. Santorum can say, "Well, of course Romney won his home state, and he won Virginia, where I was not on the ballot, but take that away and we ran about even." And Gingrich can say to himself, "Let Romney and Santorum keep hammering each other, and I will emerge as the least bloodied, most experienced candidate." And Paul? He does not seem to be in this contest to win it, but to have influence at the Convention. The less decisive Tuesday is, the better for him.
It looks like Romney will have to slug it out with Santorum for quite a while yet, and the longer it takes, the less excited the Republicans are likely to be about either of them, or about their chances in the fall. (Unless, of course, they become more civil and centrist, an unlikely development.)
George Will, the usually level-headed and reasonable conservative columnist has already given up on the possibility of retaking the White House. He has just put out a column saying that the Republicans should focus on winning seats in Congress, instead.