- - Sunday, March 4, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

For those of us who have never been held hostage, now we know what it feels like: Day after day, looking at the same faces, endlessly discussing the same topics, being fed the same gruel over and over.

That is the 2012 Republican nomination contest. Will it ever end? Not on Super Tuesday, it won’t. And that means we’re going into May … and June … and July — maybe right up to the Republican convention.

Ten states will hold caucuses and primaries Tuesday. Some 437 delegates are up for grabs (for comparison, so far, 338 delegates have been awarded). But this time around, Super Tuesday, so decisive in years past, looks like a big fat dud.

Here’s why: Mitt Romney appears on track to win his real home state of Massachusetts, taking 41 delegates. Polls show the former governor ahead in Virginia, with 49 delegates, and Vermont, with 17. That would give him 107 delegates for the day.

Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has a 20-plus point lead in his home state of Georgia, which for some reason boasts the highest prize of the day, 76 delegates. And former Sen. Rick Santorum leads in the polls in Tennessee (58 delegates) and Oklahoma (43, for a total of 101).

So, with just those states, the tally would be Mr. Romney 107, Mr. Santorum 101, Mr. Gingrich 76.

From the few polls taken in Alaska, the state’s 27 delegates look like they will be divvied up in four-way split between those three men and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. Same with North Dakota’s 28 delegates and Idaho’s 32 delegates.

That leaves only Ohio, what all mainstream media pundits have deemed the next “must-win” state. There, Mr. Santorum was well ahead in the polls until recent weeks, but Mr. Romney is quickly closing the gap. Still, no matter who wins, the two will likely split most of the 66 delegates. Political prognosticator Larry Sabato projects Mitt winning 32, Rick 31. Not exactly a walk-off homer for either candidate.

On Wednesday morning, the tallies would look like this, Mr. Sabato predicts: Mr. Romney 212, Mr. Santorum 163, Mr. Gingrich 47, Mr. Paul 31. The full delegate count would then be 394, 242, 86, 69, respectively.

That, of course, would make Newt and Ron the big losers. Mr. Gingrich could well drop out of the game at that point, but Mr. Santorum certainly won’t, and Mr. Paul has nowhere else to go, so he’ll stay in, too.

And apparently, that’s just what the architects of the 2012 nomination process wanted.

On Super Tuesday this time around, just 20 percent of the available delegates will be in play. In 2008, more than 50 percent were allotted on that single day. Plus, with more states now having proportional division of delegates rather than winner-take-all, no candidate will be remotely close to the 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination. Not even close enough to scare anyone out of the race.

The process is marred by the fact that only Mr. Romney and Mr. Paul will be on the Virginia ballot — the other two candidates missed the filing deadline. Said Mr. Sabato: “Our guesstimate of Romney’s delegate edge — 49 over Santorum — comes almost entirely from Virginia. Subtract out Virginia, and Super Tuesday becomes essentially a draw.”

Since its inaugural in 1984, Super Tuesday has often been decisive. In 1998, Gov. Michael Dukakis won the day’s largest share of delegates and went on to take the nomination. In 1992, Bill Clinton locked down the South and eventually the party’s nod. In 1996, Bob Dole swept the day’s seven states, and in 2000, both Al Gore and George W. Bush seized the day, and their party’s nominations.

But in 2008, 24 states fled the traditional March Super Tuesday, moving their elections to early February. Still, Sen. John McCain cruised to victory then and Mr. Romney dropped out a few days later.

Normally, just three weeks separates the big day from the New Hampshire primary; this time, there’s an eight-week gap (and about 300 debates that changed the landscape almost daily).

So, no freedom just yet. Instead, there’ll be months more of a grueling campaign — and months more of the same old gruel.

Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at jcurl@washingtontimes.com.

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