The winding road of the Republican presidential primary race continues next week as GOP voters in 10 states weigh in on who should be their standard-bearer heading into November.
A strong showing by any GOP candidate on Super Tuesday — when 437 delegates are up for grabs — could push someone from the race.
If former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who regained his position as front-runner after wins in Arizona and Michigan this week, does well in the contests, it could mean the end of the game for one or more of his remaining opponents: former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
The states holding contests on Super Tuesday are: Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.
Super Tuesday comes on the heels of another important contest on Saturday: the Washington State caucuses, where 43 delegates are in play. On Tuesday, Wyoming will also begin its caucuses, but that process will continue throughout the week and the results won’t be known until Saturday.
But it appears that Super Tuesday will not be a cakewalk for Romney, after he only eked out a three-point win over Santorum in his home state of Michigan.
Dan Pinello, who’s gay and a government professor at the City University of New York, said he thinks the outcome of the contests will be “muddled” and won’t leave a clear Republican front-runner in their aftermath.
“It’s going to be a mix of wins by various candidates,” Pinello said. “I don’t think the field is going to be any clearer after Tuesday than it is before, quite frankly. I anticipate that all four candidates will also continue regardless of what happens on Tuesday.”
Hastings Wyman, who’s also gay and editor of the Southern Political Report, said Santorum may continue to show strength in several southern states.
“I think he has a good shot in Oklahoma, possibly in Tennessee, possibly in Georgia,” Wyman said. “The only one I would give him a good shot in is probably Oklahoma.”
In Ohio, Santorum could show that his campaign continues to have life. According to a poll published Tuesday by the University of Cincinnati, Santorum leads Romney by 11 percentage points among Republican primary voters.
Wyman said the race in Georgia is important for Gingrich because if he doesn’t win there, which is his home state, it will likely be the end of his campaign.
“It’s very hard to predict what he’ll do, but I think it’ll be very hard from him to stay in if he doesn’t carry Georgia,” Wyman said. “He’s working very hard down there. He’s touring the state, he’s speaking to these mega churches, he’s treating it like Romney was treating Michigan.”
Gingrich seems poised to capture the state. A poll published Monday by Survey USA found him leading there with 39 percent of support among Republican voters. Santorum follows at 24 percent, while Romney comes in at 23 percent.
The contest in Virginia will also be of special interest because it’s awarding a large number of delegates, 46, and because only two candidates will be on the ballot: Romney and Paul.
Wyman said Republicans unhappy with Romney may vote for Paul in an effort to prolong the Republican primary season and prevent Romney from claiming the nomination. Virginia has an open primary, which means Democrats can come to the polls.
“It would not surprise me if a lot of the people who vote for Santorum or Gingrich would get out the vote for Paul just to slow down Romney,” Wyman said.
David Lampo, a gay Republican activist from Alexandria, Va., said he’s voting for Paul in the primary not as a protest vote, but because of the candidate’s libertarian views.
“I’m a longtime libertarian, so of course he appeals to me,” Lampo said. “Not the greatest messenger, but he has reintroduced libertarianism to millions of Americans, particularly a whole new generation of young voters. And he even runs competitively with President Obama in many polls.”
As a U.S. House member, Paul was among the Republicans who voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and against a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but the candidate has also been a strong supporter of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Lampo said Paul has been “a bit uneven” on LGBT issues, but “shines” compared to the other Republican presidential candidates.
CUNY’s Pinello said Paul may have “a few good showings” in Super Tuesday, but expressed doubt the candidate would be able to prevail in any states next week.
“I don’t know that he’ll win any states, but he will have good enough showings to argue that his effort isn’t necessarily doomed, at least from his perspective,” Pinello said. “His supporters are so gung-ho that it doesn’t really make a difference that he hasn’t won any states outright.”
Even if Romney builds off his wins in Michigan and Arizona by sweeping the contests on Super Tuesday, whether Santorum or Gingrich will drop out immediately remains unclear.
Wyman said the Romney alternatives may see if they can win a brokered convention when Republicans gather in Tampa later this year to anoint their nominee.
In that case, delegates wouldn’t be able to settle on a nominee during the ballot round and would have to negotiate through political horse-trading to settle on a candidate.
“If they can all stay in and keep their delegates at least on the first ballot — I think most states require that — then they might possibly be able to keep Romney from winning on the first ballot and maybe create some opportunity for somebody else,” Wyman said.
Pinello said the prospects of a brokered convention in Tampa are diminished now that Romney has pulled off a win — albeit a narrow one — in his home state of Michigan this week, but such an outcome could still be possible.
“If the current polling data nationally show that Obama has a lead, although not large, but nonetheless a lead, over all four of the current Republican candidates,” Pinello said. “So the party leadership across the nation that may be wishing for a Jeb Bush or a Chris Christie or someone else be their champion and save the day, but I don’t think that’s likely at all.”
Whether the GOP candidates will draw on anti-gay rhetoric to win support from Republican voters prior to Super Tuesday also remains to be seen.
Wyman said “you might see some” campaigning directed against the LGBT community in the Super Tuesday states as the candidates jockey for support among conservative voters.
“They’ve all been pretty stalwart in their opposition to anything gay,” Wyman said. “Every now and then one of them will act a little bit liberal and say, ‘I don’t believe in discrimination,’ but they do. Ultimately, they side with the religious right on most gay issues.”
Pinello expressed doubt that Romney would draw on anti-gay attacks, saying the candidate would instead opt to focus on economic issues, but couldn’t say the same about Santorum.
“He had that confrontation before the New Hampshire with college students over same-sex marriage,” Pinello said. “A lot of commentators said that had been a mistake by him in terms of allowing the issue to drift away from economic issues, but he doesn’t seem concerned by that. He’s happy to be the stalwart on social issues.”
Pinello said if the candidates want to talk about social issues, the would be more inclined hot button topics other than LGBT rights, such as a abortion and the Obama administration’s rule providing contraception to women.
The candidates’ positions on LGBT issues are already well-known. Each of the Republican candidates who’ve won primaries — Romney, Santorum and Gingrich — has signed a pledge from the National Organization for Marriage vowing to back a Federal Marriage Amendment, defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court and establish a commission on “religious liberty” to investigate the harassment of same-sex marriage supporters.
Santorum has gone further by saying he’d restore “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if elected president, and Gingrich has said he’d order an “extensive review” of going back to the policy.
As candidates campaign in Tennessee, they may want to weigh in on state pending legislation commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would prohibit discussion about homosexuality in schools from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Chris Sanders, chair of the Nashville Committee for the Tennessee Equality Project, said polls are showing Santorum has strength in Tennessee and his views are in synch with what’s happening in the legislature.
“Given the fact that he has been so explicitly anti-equality, it’s just another index that we’ve got a lot of work to do in Tennessee,” Sanders said.
Sanders dismissed the idea that Santorum or other candidates would explicitly mention state legislative issues, such as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” but said “the anti-equality candidates will find very hospitable ground for themselves here.”
The Washington State caucuses on Saturday could also draw anti-gay sentiments from the candidates because Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this month signed marriage equality into law, and anti-gay forces are at work to collect the 120,577 signatures needed by June 6 to put the law before voters in November.
Santorum made his opposition to the marriage law a cornerstone of his campaign in Washington State. On the same day the marriage law was signed, Santorum held a campaign rally in the state, saying Gregoire’s signature “isn’t the last word” on marriage as he called on supporters to bring the measure to the polls.
For his part, Gingrich took a softer approach to Washington — as well as the expected legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland — by saying last week these states were going about it “the right way” by using the legislative process instead of the courts, even though he personally opposes same-sex marriage.
“I think at least they’re doing it the right way, which is going through voters, giving them a chance to vote and not having a handful of judges arbitrarily impose their will,” Gingrich said.
The candidate’s statement contradicts his support for a Federal Marriage Amendment, which, if passed, would abrogate all laws allowing same-sex marriage, including those passed by state legislatures.
Romney has yet to address specifically the legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington, but Pinello doubted the candidate will talk about the issue ahead of Saturday.
“He is really trying to focus on economic issues, single-mindedly,” Pinello said. “I don’t think he would initiate any conversation. He can’t necessarily avoid a question that might come up if one were posed, but I’m sure it will be a short answer, and then he’d jump back to some economic issue.”