As we brace for today's vote totals, I'd encourage you to re-read the omnibus analysis of trends, polls, and voting blocs we posted yesterday. Not much has shifted in the frenetic final 24 hours of the race -- at least as far as pollsters can tell -- so that piece remains relevant. At the moment, we've projected Romney to win four states (ID, MA, VA, VT), while Gingrich (GA) and Santorum (TN) will snag one each. Two states (AK, ND) have no polling available, and although Romney won both in 2008, that fact may or may not translate across cycles (see NV and CO for conflicting examples). Last but not least, the two big jump-ball, delegate-rich prizes are Ohio and Tennessee. The Townhall Polltracker average shows Santorum leading narrowly in the former state and comfortably in the latter, but RealClearPolitics' final pre-election averages are less pleasant for the former Pennsylvania Senator. Looking at the final batch of numbers, I would give Santorum a fractional lead in Tennessee and call Ohio a genuine toss-up.
Expect much of the news media's scrutiny to rest on Buckeye Country; it represents a close, contested primary race and a must-win general election swing state. Since the Florida debacle of 2000, the networks have cleaned up their acts by declining to broadcast direct electoral exit poll results, and waiting until polls have closed in a given state before projecting its winner. They do, however, release dribs and drabs of exit polling data pertaining to demographic information and voter priorities. For a significant clue into how Ohio may eventually turn out, pay attention to the metrics Ohio Republican voters cite as decisive. Romney holds a large lead among those who prioritize defeating President Obama in the fall, whereas Santorum leads among those who want their pick to embody "true conservative" values. According to Marist's statistics, the former governor also dominates among those who cite 'experience' as their top criterion, while the two leading contenders battle to a statistical draw among those who say they'll select the candidate who shares their positions on issues. In other words, if exit polls suggest the Ohio electorate ended up placing a significantly greater emphasis on electability, it might be a good night for Mitt Romney. If values win the day, Santorum may secure the state he desperately needs.
Finally, Gallup has posted some useful information about national trends among all Republican-leaning voters. It's virtually all good news for Team Romney, but consider it with a hefty chunk of salt, which I'll explain below. The data:
At this moment, Romney leads in literally every single demographic measured:
But here's the rub: If one (or more) 'Not Romney' candidates has a surprisingly good night (think Santorum winning Ohio, plus Newt taking Tennessee, or some similar scenario), that would instantly resurrect the Romney-as-weak-frontrunner storyline, and this year's historically volatile GOP electorate would likely be thrown back into indecisive chaos -- totally altering the numbers above. If Romney has a good night (think winning six states, including Ohio), he'll sustain and shore up his national advantage. What about Santorum's delegate problem in Ohio? Couldn't he win the popular vote, but suffer a delegate count setback because of his team's logistical failures? Absolutely possible, but delegate apportionment won't drive the narrative. In short, Santorum's delegate issue is very real in terms of the X's and 0's path to 1144 and the convention, but in the joint realms of momentum and fundraising, a win is a win.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography