Republicans Pick Their Fights For "Super Tuesday"

The Republican presidential hopefuls are heading into next week's "Super Tuesday" contests with different game plans but the same goal: find the most friendly terrain to make a stand.

As the state-by-state race goes national with 10 contests on Tuesday, the cost and scope of fighting on a coast-to-coast battlefield is forcing the four remaining Republican candidates to focus on states where they have the best chance to pull off a win.

Their contrasting strategies were clear on Wednesday, a day after Mitt Romney regained his shaky front-runner status with wins in the Arizona and Michigan primaries.

Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker whose hopes of rejuvenating his flagging campaign lie in the South, is treating Tuesday's primary in his home state of Georgia as a make-or-break contest. He also is hoping to score well in Ohio, the day's most significant prize, and the conservative southern states of Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Rick Santorum, now Romney's chief rival, will challenge Gingrich in Tennessee and Oklahoma. He also will fight Romney in Ohio, a politically divided state that will be a key battleground in the November 6 election, when the eventual Republican nominee will face Democratic President Barack Obama.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul is focusing on Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota, states that will hold voter caucuses rather than primaries. Paul's committed backers can make a difference in low-turnout contests in caucus states.

And Romney, who survived a near-disaster by pulling out a narrow win over Santorum in his home state of Michigan, has safe havens on Super Tuesday in Massachusetts, where he once was governor, and in Virginia, where he and Paul were the only candidates to collect enough voter signatures to get on the primary ballot.

Romney will visit North Dakota and Idaho on Thursday but will put much of his energy into Ohio, where he campaigned on Wednesday. He is unlikely to spend much time in the southern states where Santorum and Gingrich will battle, although Romney's wife, Ann, is scheduled to be in Georgia on Thursday.

For Romney, a victory in Ohio over Santorum - the latest hope of the party's most conservative wing - would go a long way toward easing some of the doubts about the former Massachusetts governor.

"It's really going to be all about Ohio," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said of the Super Tuesday landscape. "If Romney does well in Ohio and over the next few weeks, it will get harder for the other candidates to make a plausible argument that they should be the nominee."

Read more from John Whitesides at Reuters

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published this page in In The News 2012-02-29 21:30:00 -0500
Analysis & Political Strategy