Counting down the hours to Super Tuesday results
Super Tuesday may not be quite so super this year, with seven states holding primaries and three holding caucuses. That's down from two dozen, California included, that participated in 2008's version of Super Tuesday. And although front-runner Mitt Romney is expected to win more of the contests than any other candidate, the GOP's rules will prevent him from building a rival-crushing lead in convention delegates.
So it's not likely that the results will prompt any of the also-rans to pull a Herman Cain and return to their day jobs on K Street, no matter how lackluster their showing may be. Several analysts have projected that Romney's lead in delegates could become insurmountable after Tuesday's voting, but he still may not be able to lock up enough to win the nomination outright. That's reason enough for Newt Gingrich, who's a distant third and seemingly dead in the polls, to keep campaigning all the way to the convention.
Gingrich's main hope Tuesday is his delegate-rich home state of Georgia, where polls show him holding a healthy double-digit lead over Romney. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is focusing on the three caucus states -- Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska -- where his grass-roots organizational strength makes the greatest difference. Rick Santorum is favored in Oklahoma and is running neck and neck with Romney in Tennessee and Ohio. Romney is favored in Massachusetts (where he served as governor), Vermont and Virginia (where he and Paul were the only candidates to qualify for the ballot), and has moved up strongly in Ohio and Tennessee in recent weeks.
All those projections are mere speculation at this point. The results start rolling in shortly after 4 p.m. Pacific -- that's poll-closing time in Vermont, Virginia and Georgia. Expect a trove of exit-polling data to become available then too.
My Washington-based Opinion section colleagues Doyle McManus and Michael McGough will join me and David Horsey from The Times' Top of the Ticket blog in tweeting about the results as they come in. Be sure to check out The Times' homepage for those tweets.
-- Jon Healey
Photo: Voters cast ballots in Marietta, Ga., on Super Tuesday. Credit: Erik S. Lesser / EPA