March primaries: A look ahead

A predictably muddled Super Tuesday left Mitt Romney inching closer to securing the nomination, but also established Rick Santorum as a credible alternative, while Newt Gingrich remains a strong force in the South.  The possibility of a brokered Republican convention was upgraded from “extremely unlikely” to “highly unlikely.”  What awaits us in the remaining March primaries?

Next up, on March 10, will be caucuses in Kansas, Wyoming, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam.  All of the candidates are planning appearances in Kansas, which puts 40 delegates on the table.  Rick Santorum arrived there Wednesday, while the others have events scheduled for Friday and Saturday.  As recently as Tuesday morning, Ellis County Republican chairman John Pyle told the local Daily News that the state caucuses “will be a toss-up.”

Wyoming has a complex and protracted caucus system for selecting its 29 delegates, which actually got under way on Super Tuesday.  Romney did well there in 2008, and won a straw poll last month with 39 percent of the vote, edging out runner-up Rick Santorum by 7 percent.  The Casper Star-Tribune notes that “to date, Romney’s the only candidate who has set up a significant campaign organization in the state,” leading Romney state advisory committee member Bill Novotny to declare, “we feel fantastic about the position that Governor Romney is in.”

March 13 brings primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, along with caucuses in Hawaii.  Polls in mid-February showed a tight three-way race between Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich in Alabama, with Romney slightly ahead.  A few weeks later, Santorum was thought to have a significant lead, but the situation in the state has been fluid throughout the Republican primary.  The margin of victory will be crucial for whichever candidate wins Alabama, because its entire contingent of 50 delegates will be awarded to the winner… if he wins with 50 percent of the vote.  Otherwise, every candidate who posts over 20 percent of the vote will be awarded a proportional share of the delegates.

Mississippi holds an open primary, in which anyone who can spell the name of the state correctly on the first try is allowed to vote, regardless of party affiliation.  (Just kidding – you don’t have to spell “Mississippi” to vote.)  The Democrats have an open primary on the same day, where President Obama is running unopposed, but Senate and House nominations are at stake, and voting in the GOP primary disqualifies an individual from participating in the Democrat contest.  40 delegates to the Republican National Convention are in play.

Then it’s déjà vu in Missouri March 17, where Rick Santorum, who won the non-binding “beauty contest” primary on Feb. 7 must return and try to win some of the state’s 52 delegates in the actual caucuses.  In a further twist, Missouri’s winner will not be announced until April.  The next day, Puerto Rico holds a caucus for its 20 delegates.

March 20 brings the biggest remaining race of the month in the Illinois primary, with 54 delegates on the line.  Rick Santorum has a problem similar to the one he faced in Ohio, having failed to file delegates in four of the state’s 18 congressional districts.  In keeping with the fashionable trend against simple contests with easily understood victories, after these 54 delegates are taken in a district-by-district close-quarters political battle, Illinois holds a convention to select 12 more at-large delegates in June, and these electoral ronin will arrive in Tampa accompanied by the equally foot-loose state party chairman and two Republican National Committee members.

Also at stake in the March 20 contest will be the cachet of claiming victory in Barack Obama’s home state.  “Cachet” is a French word describing the melancholy feeling of watching Chicago hand the entire state to Obama in the general election.

March wraps up with the Louisiana primary March 24, proportionally awarding 20 of the state’s 46 delegates.  The other 26 will go to the Republican National Convention uncommitted.  Early voting in Louisiana is already under way.

Update: Late word that Gingrich is canceling his Kansas appearances, to focus on Mississippi and Alabama.