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US Super Tuesday Preview: Can Mitt Romney Seal the Deal for the Republican Nomination?

Mitt Romney Campaigning in OhioToday, voters in 10 states cast their ballot in the next battle among Republicans to face President Obama in November. nomination contest. At stake are approximately 450 delegates, or roughly 20% of the total, to the National Convention in August, . It is a significant number, hence the tag "Super Tuesday", but at the end of today, barring an extraordinary performance from Mitt Romney, the GOP's choice is still unlikely to have been decided.

Have a look at the estimates of delegates that each candidate has won so far. AP have given Romney 180 out of the 324 that will attend the Convention. Those numbers may be adjusted because of differences in the ways states award delegates, but alongside today's likely results, they show the long slog for the Romney camp to secure the nomination on a first count in August.

If the 10 states vote as predicted by the polls, come Wednesday morning Romney will have around 400 delegates out of 770 in total. That is a majority, but with 1500 delegates yet to be decided, other candidates willstill believe there is a chance of denying Romney an outright victory.

The headlines will be generated in Ohio. A week ago Rick Santorum held a handy lead over Romney, but that lead has steadily eroded since Romney won contests in Arizona and Michigan. Now the two are in a statistical tie in the polls.

This is It is a swing state that reliably votes for the winner of presidential elections –-- which, incidentally, is the reason President Obama makes sure to visit on a regular basis . Ohio's importance is attested to by the time Santorum and Romney have spent in the state over the last week, and the millions spent by Super PACs devoted to, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “building up one guy and tearing down another". This attention to Ohio is not the result of the 66 delegates at stake, but because of the symbolic nature of winning the Buckeye State: the result there sets the narrative for the remaining contests.

If Romney wins there, it undercuts Santorum's argument that he is the preferred choice of the everyday blue-collar American and that Romney's "elitist", "establishment" background will cost Republicans dearly in a general election against the populist Obama. If Santorum wins, it wounds the Romney theme that he is the only Republican who stands a chance in November. Santorum can appeal to the remaining states and their 1500 delegates that his authentic conservatism, and not the moderate Republicanism of his opponent, provides the stark contrast needed to defeat the President.

If Ohio is the big prize up for grabs, the outcome in three other states will feed the narrative. Tennessee had a similar Santorum surge in mid-February after his three primary wins in one night, but his numbers there are dropping steadily. A week ago the former Senator was certain to win, but he now leads by the slim margin of 34-30. If Romney pulls ahead, alongside a victory in Ohio, Santorum is in real trouble.

The other notable state, Oklahoma, also saw Santorum with a big lead in mid-February. There have been no recent polls, but the Romney theme of Santorum as an unelectable candidate would be bolstered if he declines today.

This is where Georgia enters the stage. If Romney can get close to Newt Gingrich, now a no-hoper for the nomination but still campaigning, in the home state of the former Speaker of the House, then this plus a strong showing elsewhere finally clears a path where he easily secures the delegates for the nomination.

But this has been a roller coaster campaign, and Super Tuesday does not look like the end of the ride. Despite his recent slip in the numbers, the polls are giving Santorum a good chance in Ohio and Tennessee. If he can hold those leads, however slim, then he will have the momentum to continue fund-raising efforts into the next crucial elections, in Illinois and Missouri on 20 March.

Another "if" to consider for the longer-term, especially for those wondering why Gingrich still believes he has a chance to win and why Santorum might continue to run, even on a shoestring budget, if he loses Ohio and Tennessee....

From 24 April 24, there will be nearly 1,00 delegates yet to be awarded, almost half the total going to the National Convention. Well before then, on 27 and 28 March, the Supreme Court hears arguments on the constitutionality of President Obama's health care reforms.

This issue will dominate the news cycle until the Court's decision is known. No date has been announced for the ruling, but with 72& of Americans believing the reforms are unconstitutional --- including 54% of those who believe they are positive --- the attention could be bad news for Romney, as Gingrich and Santorum hammer Romney on his "MittCare" measures while Governor of Massachusetts.

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