Georgia, Ohio Loom as Key Super Tuesday Prizes

Georgia, Ohio Loom as Key Super Tuesday Prizes

By Erin McPike - February 17, 2012

CNN yesterday canceled a planned presidential debate in Georgia on March 1 after Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum all declined to attend. But for the three Republican candidates not named Newt Gingrich, their decision may represent a missed opportunity.

Georgia awards more delegates than any of the 10 other states also holding nominating contests on Super Tuesday, March 6. The Peach State will allocate 76 delegates, to be exact -- 10 more than Ohio's 66. Georgia also happens to be Gingrich's home state, and early expectations were that he would win it easily.

And so, political operatives in each of the campaigns have long considered Ohio to be Super Tuesday’s marquee state. In fact, Rick Santorum is spending two days there this weekend even as polls show him leading Romney in the latter’s so-called home state of Michigan, which holds its primary a week before Ohio. (Such a victory could upend the race.) Romney has campaigned in Ohio throughout the cycle, and Gingrich gave up on Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota last week to spend some quality time in the key Midwestern swing state.

As for Georgia, Romney has held a rally in Atlanta, the one area of the state that could be favorable to him, and Santorum will campaign there on Sunday.

The RCP polling average in Georgia shows Gingrich with an edge of 15.3 percentage points. And yet, the most recent poll there shows Santorum surging past Romney into second place. Gingrich garnered 35 percent of those surveyed in a Landmark/Rosetta Stone survey, conducted Feb. 9, to Santorum’s 26 percent. Romney was third with just 16 percent -- and that number is significant.

The reason is simple: Thirty-four “at-large” delegates will be split proportionally among all of the candidates who get at least 20 percent of the vote, meaning Romney could be denied a share of them if he doesn’t garner a fifth of the state’s vote.

The remaining 42 delegates will be awarded by congressional district, three in each of the 14 jurisdictions. If any candidate wins at least 50 percent of the vote in a district, he would get all three of its delegates, and that means Gingrich could run up his count. But Santorum and Romney are advertising on TV there, and it makes sense for them to play hard in the state: If no candidate reaches the 50-percent threshold in a district, the one with the highest vote total gets two delegates, and the candidate who places second gets one. The big prize for Santorum and Romney would be to build up scores against each other or keep Gingrich’s totals down.

Gingrich political director Martin Baker insists that “we’re competing for all 76 of the delegates,” though, given the proportional allocation, it’s impossible to get every one. Still, the campaign hopes to stockpile a large share of them.

In 2008, Mike Huckabee beat Romney and John McCain in Georgia, a very conservative state. His spokeswoman, Alice Stewart, is now the national press secretary for Santorum. A native Georgian, she joked in a phone interview, “I delivered Georgia for Mike Huckabee, and I hope to do the same for Rick Santorum.”

Ohio, unlike Georgia, awards delegates on a winner-take-all basis for each of its congressional districts. With 16 districts, 48 delegates are at stake, but Santorum did not qualify for the ballot in three districts and so is already nine delegates in the hole -- even if he wins the state overall on Super Tuesday. The remaining 18 delegates are awarded proportionally based on the statewide vote, but if any candidate were to break 50 percent, they’d win all of them. And that’s a large part of why Gingrich, Santorum and Romney are campaigning so hard there -- to keep any of the others from a clean sweep. 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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