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Supporters greet Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum as he arrives to deliver a speech during an event at the Curb Center on Belmont University's campus in Nashville, Tennessee, a few days ahead of Super Tuesday voting, Feb. 29, 2012. (Harrison McClary/Reuters/Harrison McClary/Reuters)
Supporters greet Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum as he arrives to deliver a speech during an event at the Curb Center on Belmont University's campus in Nashville, Tennessee, a few days ahead of Super Tuesday voting, Feb. 29, 2012. (Harrison McClary/Reuters/Harrison McClary/Reuters)

Why Tennessee is the state to watch on Super Tuesday Add to ...

It is somewhat less super than usual, with 11 fewer states holding primaries or caucuses on this Super Tuesday compared to the last multi-contest delegate bash in 2008.

Still, Republicans voting in 10 states may give Mitt Romney the boost he needs to finally suppress the alternating insurgencies of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

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There is no way Mr. Romney can lock up the GOP presidential nomination as John McCain did on Super Tuesday four years ago. There are not even half as many delegates up for grabs this time – 437 of them – as there were in 2008.

But polls taken over the weekend suggests the ex-Massachusetts governor may pick up a solid majority of them, leaving his rivals limping onwards behind him. The polls showed a notable swing toward Mr. Romney after he eked out a win last week in Michigan.

While the delegate count is all that really matters, the significance of who wins which states and why will give the candidates and their strategists plenty to pore over on Wednesday morning. And no state may be as interesting to analyze as Tennessee.

Ohio (where Mr. Romney needs another Rust Belt win) and Georgia (where Mr. Gingrich hopes a victory keeps him in the hunt) have captured most of the attention. But Tennessee is home to the only three-way race and whoever wins there can rightly brag about it.

Here is what is at stake as Republicans in four corners of the nation vote on Tuesday.

GEORGIA (76 delegates) The peach blossoms are already popping as Republicans in one of the reddest states prepare to anoint their adoptive son, Pennsylvania-born Newt Gingrich, as their runaway choice. The ex-Speaker holds as much as a 20-percentage-point lead in the polls. If Mr. Gingrich spins his victory right, and Mr. Santorum treads water, he might just rise again.

OHIO (66 delegates) Since last week, Mr. Romney has closed an almost-10-percentage-point gap with Mr. Santorum to take a small lead in two weekend polls. Indeed, the race looks a lot like Michigan, where Mr. Santorum’s focus on social issues drained his momentum in the final stretch and Mr. Romney’s superior organization won the day.

TENNESSEE (58 delegates) Republicans in Tennessee swung from Mr. Gingrich to Mr. Santorum last month and, in the last week, have been gravitating toward Mr. Romney. After losing South Carolina, Mr. Romney could help debunk the idea he cannot win in the South with a strong showing here. A loss – or, worse, third place – would punch a hole in Mr. Gingrich’s Southern strategy.

VIRGINIA (49 delegates) Virginia Republicans will receive the shortest ballot in recent primary history. Only Mr. Romney and Texas Congressman Ron Paul qualified for the state’s GOP contest. Governor Bob McDonnell, a possible vice-presidential mate, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have endorsed Mr. Romney. He is expected to capture two-thirds of the vote.

OKLAHOMA (43 delegates) Evangelicals dominate the Republican electorate in Oklahoma and Mr. Santorum surged past Mr. Gingrich last month to take a commanding lead in the polls. There is little fresh public polling data, suggesting the state could hold a few surprises. If Mr. Santorum loses here and in Ohio, however, his political death watch will officially begin.

MASSACHUSETTS (41 delegates) Mr. Romney’s main competition in the state where he was a successful one-term governor and powerful business leader is not a Republican. President Barack Obama’s campaign arm, Obama for America, has put on about 100 events in the state in recent days to tout the President’s economic agenda and slam Mr. Romney’s record in office.

VERMONT (17 delegates) The one disparaged by Mr. Gingrich as the “Massachusetts moderate” is favoured in Vermont. Like the state Mr. Romney ran, it has a history of supporting centrist Republicans. But Mr. Santorum has also shown some traction there and could draw support from Vermont’s Catholics.

IDAHO (32 delegates), ALASKA (27) and NORTH DAKOTA (28) These states are holding caucuses, not primaries, making the results subject to the vagaries of small turnouts dominated by hard-core activists. That mix typically benefits Mr. Santorum and Mr. Paul, although Mr. Paul had a mediocre showing in Saturday’s Washington state caucuses. A large Mormon cohort in Idaho favours Mr. Romney there.

A total of 437 delegates are in play on Tuesday, or more than a third of the 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination. Not all of the delegates will be divvied up right away. North Dakota allots its delegates later at a state convention, while a small number of “unbound” delegates from primary states can decide on their own whom to back.

Any way you slice it, Mr. Romney is breathing easier. A week ago, he seemed hobbled. Barring an upset, he should end Super Tuesday with a bounce in his step.

Follow on Twitter: @konradyakabuski

 
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