if Gingrich wins Florida. The answer was that the race would become a protracted delegate fight between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, with Romney rebuilding momentum through wins in the February contests. Now that the Florida polls--nearly all taken before Romney won Thursday's debate--have Romney with a comfortable lead, it's time to consider the alternative. How does the presidential primary proceed if Romney wins Florida?
The short answer is that Romney would become heavily favored to win the nomination. Why is Florida's result so important? In an earlier post, we explained why early states have so much influence in a primary. It's not just that they push the results of the later states; they also reveal how the later states are likely to play out. Florida is neutral territory. It is not heavily biased toward Romney (like Utah) or heavily biased toward Gingrich (like Georgia). It's a fair fight. If Romney wins in Florida--particularly if he wins big--it tells you that Romney is likely going to win other "unbiased" states in the future.
Romney winning Florida will provide him with momentum and good media narratives. The boost will be a bonus, as he has a series of pro-Romney states coming up in February. And there are few debates scheduled in the future--and even those may be cancelled. That means fewer opportunities for Gingrich to turn things back around.
February 4 -- Nevada
Romney won NV big in 2008, thanks in large part to the Mormon vote.
February 7 -- Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri (all non-binding)
Romney won CO and MN in 2008. Gingrich is not on the ballot in MO.
February 11 -- Maine (non-binding)
Romney won ME in 2008, and likely will dominate in the Northeastern states.
February 28 -- Arizona, Michigan
Romney won MI in 2008; it is his home state. Like other western states, AZ should be decent for Romney.
March 3 -- Washington
Like other "blue" states, WA will favor Romney.
By the time "Super Tuesday" rolls around on March 6th, Romney will have built up an unstoppable momentum. His campaign, and the media, will push the narrative that Gingrich can only win in the South, while Romney is favored to win in the Northeast, West, all the blue states, and probably all the swing states. However, Gingrich ought to remain in the race, and will still be able to win a handful of states (especially in the South) no matter how bad things get.
But beginning April 3rd, the remaining states will be "winner-take-all," making them much more valuable to win. As it happens, many of the blue states--Northeastern states in particular--are slated for April 3rd and later:
Blue (9): CA, CN, DC, DE, MD, NJ, NY, OR, RI
Bluish swing (2): PA, WI
Western (4): MT, NM, SD, UT
Southern (5): AR, KY, NC, TX, WV
Red (2): IN, NE
With the exception of Texas, Gingrich doesn't have much going for him. Romney can count on California, New York, and a whole host of blue or "bluish" states. It should be readily apparent that the winner-take-all deck is stacked against Gingrich. Gingrich's challenge, then, is to build up enough of a delegate lead and enough momentum in the January-March states to offset this imbalance. Without Florida to kick things off, that is an extremely difficult task.