Romney pulls ahead in Ohio, Gingrich is huge in Georgia

The American Research Group is out with a new poll, taken March 3rd and 4th among likely Republican primary voters, showing that Rick Santorum’s once-formidable lead in the state has evaporated, and Romney is now ahead by 7 points:

Mitt Romney 35%

Rick Santorum 28%

Newt Gingrich 18%

Ron Paul 13%

Other / Undecided 6%

This puts Romney’s lead beyond the poll’s plus-or-minus 4 percent margin of error.  The ARG poll is a bit of an outlier, as most others still show Ohio as a virtual dead heat between Romney and Santorum.

Meanwhile, the race is tight in another big Super Tuesday state, Tennessee, with the most recent PPP poll showing Santorum ahead by 5, just a hair outside the 4.3 percent margin of error.  PPP found a sizable advantage for Santorum among the 25 percent of Tennessee voters who have already cast their ballots. 

The biggest Super Tuesday prize is Georgia, with 76 delegates.  Only California, Texas, and New York will send larger delegations to the Republican National Convention.  Not surprisingly, Newt Gingrich is well ahead in his home state, although the size of his lead is a matter of some debate.  Rasmussen has him only 10 points ahead, while most other local and national firms say it’s more like 20. 

A big Gingrich win in Georgia is important for more than just campaign narrative purposes.  The process of assigning delegates in Georgia is rather complicated, relying almost equally upon winning individual congressional districts and the overall primary vote by large margins, as James Garland of the Athens Banner-Herald explains:

With regard to the 42 delegates awarded for the state’s 14 congressional districts, should a candidate win a particular congressional district with a majority of the vote, that candidate wins all three delegates from that district; if a candidate wins a particular congressional district with a plurality of the vote, that candidate is awarded two delegates, with the third being assigned to the runner-up.

The remaining 34 Georgia delegates, defined as at-large, are assigned on a proportional basis to all of those candidates who received at least 20 percent of the statewide votes in the presidential preference primary.

This is Gingrich’s big electoral fortress, and he needs to score dramatic victories in every single district to get all of its delegates.  If he does pull it off, he should spend the next few days explaining how it was a lot harder than just posting a solid lead in a winner-take-all state. 

It also matters who comes in second, and how far behind they are.  At the moment, Mitt Romney is 3 to 5 points ahead of Rick Santorum in most polls… except for Rasmussen, where he’s 9 points ahead of Santorum, and only 10 points behind Gingrich.  If the Rasmussen poll is correct, it could make a big difference in how those Georgia delegates are allocated.