Today is the single biggest day of the Republican presidential campaign — or, as Newt Gingrich’s political action committee put it last night, the event that could represent “life or death to America as we know and love it”.
Mitt Romney’s allies are hoping Super Tuesday’s powerful imprint on the Republican presidential nomination will bring clarity, at long last, to the fractious contest and rouse Republicans behind their frontrunner.
Romney and chief rival Rick Santorum scrambled for any advantage they could find in Ohio, the most-watched contest in the 10-state extravaganza stretching from Alaska to the south-east.
Romney needs to win Ohio to clear a significant hurdle in his goal to lock up the nomination. Santorum is desperate for victory in Ohio, too, to have any hopes of salva-ging his faltering campaign and regaining momentum among primary voters.
The latest polls found Santorum slipping three percentage points behind Romney in Ohio, and Gingrich looking strong but not invincible in his home state of Georgia, which he needs to win to have any hope of resurrecting his candidacy.
Ron Paul, trailing the delegate count and the expectations game, hoped one or more of the three caucus states, Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota, would finally give him a victory.
One-third of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination are at stake today, altogether a larger prize than all the previous primaries and caucuses combined.
Last night, the message coming from Republican establishment figures was clear: It’s time, if not past time, to crystallise the competition and unite the party behind the effort to defeat Barack Obama, the Democratic president.
Romney, meanwhile, has a head of steam as he makes a play for Super Tuesday’s 419 delegates.
House of Representatives majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative members of the senate, are among the latest Republican luminaries to get behind Romney.
Conservative John Ashcroft, the attorney general in the George W Bush administration and a former Missouri senator, also threw his support behind Romney.
“No other candidate stands out for his executive leadership experience or ability to accomplish difficult task as does Mitt Romney,” he said.
Cantor told CNN whether Super Tuesday marks a unifying turning point remains to be seen. Romney has been the presumed favourite from the start but Santorum’s surge unfolded as the latest in a line of surprises from a field now down to four.
Santorum said Romney’s inability to wrap up the nomination, despite an enormous financial advantage, “raises a lot of questions in people’s minds whether this is the man who can unite the party and be effective as a foil against Obama”.
He suggested the party’s nomination may not be settled until the Republican convention in August, a circumstance considered improbable despite events so far.
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