Going in to tomorrow's Super Tuesday contests, Mitt Romney is the weakest Republican nominee of the last 40 years. And he likely still will be after tomorrow.
First, a recap of our story thus far. Almost a quarter of the states in the Union have now voted (graphic courtesy of Wikipedia commons):
If you tally the votes to date, you'll see that Romney currently has about a 41% share of the total (my chart, based on final tallies from each state):
That, to be sure, is a lead. But it's not that high of a lead. To place it in perspective, here's his total thus far compared to the total that the eventual nominee of both parties has gotten in all contested races since 1972 (when modern primary and caucus rules start to apply) (my chart, based on Wikipedia figures for each year):
One might expect Romney's share of the vote to increase later on in the contest. But I'm not sure one would expect it to increase a whole lot. Looking back at the vote totals thus far, we can see that he's only gotten above 50% in one of 13 states. Of the 10 states up tomorrow, most polls and forecast models (take for example, Nate Silver's current projections at FiveThirtyEight) show him above 50% in only two states: Massachusetts, aka his home state, and Virginia, aka the state where Ron Paul is the only other candidate who got on the ballot.
It's not Romney bashing to note that this is underwhelming support. The same weakness of underlying support is apparent in national polling. While he currently leads nationally, he's seen four other candidates pull ahead of him five different times in the past six months:
Indeed, in the last six months, he's only been in the lead for a total of approximately two months altogether. Again, it's interesting to compare to McCain at the same point in 2008, a candidate who the party was lukewarm about and who only really started to pull ahead just before the primaries:
Of course, winning the nomination is not about national polls, or even state vote totals, it's about delegates. In that regard, the following offers some food for thought:
|1,932||Delegates remaining to be selected as of 3/5/12|
|971||Romney still needs (1,144 total, minus 173 he currently has according to Real Clear Politics tally)|
As noted earlier, his total of voting thus far is well below 50%, and isn't likely to get much higher tomorrow. Of course, delegate allocation rules are quite complex and vary state to state, such that delegate allocation is not always directly related to proportion of vote. Nevertheless, to the extent that the two roughly track, we would expect Romney to not get much more than half of the remaining delegates. Indeed, the best guess on tomorrow is that he'll get about 50% of total Super Tuesday delegates.
At that pace, it will take him until June to wrap up the nomination. The only modern Republican race that went on anything like that long was 1976, when incumbent Gerald Ford was nearly unseated by challenger Ronald Reagan.
There is no serious scenario for anyone to beat Romney for the nomination, and' even going on until June, there's every reason at this point to think he'll wrap it up before the convention, preventing anyone else from being drafted there. But any way you look at it, he is in an extraordinarily weak position vis-a-vis modern Republican nominees.