GOP candidates make final push ahead of Super Tuesday
Voters will head to the polls or caucuses in Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma, Virginia, North Dakota, Alaska, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Idaho, with 419 delegates up for grabs tomorrow. Mitt Romney is expected to win handily in Massachusetts, Virginia (where only he and Ron Paul are on the ballot), Vermont and Idaho, which award 133 delegates overall - although no contests on Tuesday are winner-take-all, and the former Massachusetts governor is unlikely to win all of the delegates at play in those states.
At campaign stops in Ohio, where recent polls show rivals Romney and Rick Santorum locked in a dead heat, both candidates aimed to gin up last-minute support they hope will deliver them a victory.
In a conference call Monday morning, Santorum blasted Romney for his record on health care, accusing the candidate of being for individual mandates "when it was fashionable."
"When it was fashionable to be for individual mandate, he was for individual mandates," Santorum said in the brief call, during which he took no questions from reporters. "He tried to persuade the president in this debate to adopt his government mandate."
"Conservatives will not trust him. They will not rally around him," Santorum added, before heading to a series of rallies in Ohio.
Romney, meanwhile, once again kept his aim focused not at Santorum but at President Obama, whose "huge juggernaut effort" he blasted at a town hall in Youngstown, Ohio.
"He's raising millions of dollars every month. And has an organization, I'm told -- someone told me yesterday that he has 491 members of his staff, in his campaign staff. This is a huge juggernaut effort," Romney said of the president. "And we're going to have to make sure that we push back against that kind of machine and that we return this process to one focused on the people of America, not the politics of the president."
A victory in Ohio - a pivotal battleground state in which 63 delegates are at stake on Tuesday - would be a boon for either candidate: A Romney victory would signify a return to the so-called inevitability of his candidacy, while a Santorum win would give his campaign a substantial boost in momentum and prove his ability to win large, diverse states.
In recent weeks, Santorum had enjoyed a healthy lead over the former Massachusetts governor in Ohio, but recent polls show Romney closing in on him: According to a new Quinnipiac poll, Romney leads Santorum by three points in the state, with 34 percent to Santorum's 31 percent. A new Suffolk University poll, on the other hand, shows Santorum edging out Romney 37 percent to 33 percent. In both polls, the candidates' respective leads fall within the survey's margin of error. A new CNN/TIME/ORC poll puts Romney and Santorum dead even, with 32 percent support each in the state, while a survey from the American Research Group (ARG) poll put Romney ahead by 35 percent to 28 percent.
While Romney and Santorum kept their eyes trained on Ohio, Newt Gingrich on Monday headed to Tennessee in a final effort to pick up some of the state's 55 delegates. Santorum and Romney continue to battle it out for first place in that state as well, but Gingrich is currently polling in third place there, according to a new ARG survey, and has seen his support rise relatively swiftly.
Gingrich's play for support in Tennessee reflects a larger strategy to build support in the South; he is widely expected to win in his home state of Georgia on Tuesday, which awards a hefty 76 delegates. According to the same CNN/TIME/ORC poll, Gingrich is leading there by more than 20 points, with 47 percent to Romney's 24 percent. Santorum came in third in the survey, with 15 percent support.
A strong performance in Tennessee paired with a win in Georgia could give Gingrich a much-needed boost in momentum - and delegates - after a series of recent losses. Still, the candidate vows he will continue on in the race even if he just wins Georgia's primary on Tuesday, which he has conceded is a must-win contest for him.
Romney is expected to score an easy victory on Tuesday in Idaho - which has the highest concentration of Mormons of any state outside of Utah - but Ron Paul spent Monday campaigning in the state, which is an open caucus state with proportional delegate allocation.
Paul says his strategy is to determine where he has the best opportunities to pick up delegates, generally in states with proportional representation and caucuses, and selectively invest his resources. On Tuesday, Idaho, Alaska and North Dakota offer the candidate his best chances at claiming delegates. Paul courted voters in Alaska last weekend, another caucus contest. Alaska's caucuses are limited to Republicans, but voters can register on site.
Entering Super Tuesday, CBS News estimates that Romney leads the pack with 187 delegates, with Santorum in second with 65 delegates; Gingrich follows with 30, and Paul with 20. A candidate needs to win 1,144 delegates to earn the nomination.
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