On Tuesday, Massachusetts residents will have their say in the heated 2012 Republican presidential primary race. The Bay State is expected to be a decisive win for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but Romney's opponents aren't sitting back.
A recent Suffolk University poll has Romney at 64 percent, with former Sen. Rick Santorum in a distant second at 16 percent. Texas Congressman Ron Paul is polling in the single digits at 7 percent, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in last place with 6 percent.
The 48-point lead Romney enjoys in polls is enough to offer his campaign a sense of security in the state he governed for four years, but his opponents are hoping to close that gap as much as possible.
There are 41 delegates to be won in Massachusetts, and delegates will be awarded proportionally as opposed to winner-take-all. This creates the opportunity for them to snatch a few delegates from Romney even if they don't win the state.
But for Romney's opponents, is charging the gates in Massachusetts all in vain?
Among the non-Romney candidates, the conservative man-of-the-month in February was Santorum. And the Santorum campaign is hoping his meteoric rise in February -- which gave him a handful of victories early that month -- will carry him to victory in key Super Tuesday states.
But his recent losses in Arisona and Michigan, combined with declining national poll numbers, may have deflated his balloon.
"Leading up to the Arizona and Michigan primaries last week, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were seen as neck-and-neck," said Meredith Warren, co-founder of Andover-based political consulting firm Lyric Consulting. "But Santorum lost some serious momentum when he not only lost both states but was publicly making mischief with the Michigan primary by encouraging Democrats to vote in the Republican primary against Romney. I don’t think Republican voters appreciated this behavior, and it’s showing in the polls."
Santorum doesn't operate a campaign office in Massachusetts. But as a devout Catholic who has taken bold stands on social issues, could he attract a decent turnout in the state that has one of the highest concentration of Catholics in the nation?
"It’s possible Santorum will pick up some of those votes in Massachusetts, but I expect Romney—a former Massachusetts governor—will win the day," Warren said.
Once thought to be soaring toward frontrunner status after his South Carolina primary victory, Gingrich has dropped in polls steadily since. And he's hoping to regain some ground on Super Tuesday, with races in Ohio and his home state of Georgia. And the former speaker has a ground operation in Mitt's state, too.
Haverhill resident and former Republican congressional candidate Sam Meas is solidly in the Gingrich camp.
"When Newt speaks, whether one agrees with his policy or statement, he sounds very genuine and sincere," Meas said. "He knows that he has flaws. But he does not try to be everything to everybody."
Meas, who was orphaned by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, raised in a refugee camp and moved to the United States as an adolescent when Ronald Reagan was president, said he relates to Gingrich's boldness and decisiveness and just doesn't trust Romney.
"America needs a leader who is bold, decisive, determined and resolute," Meas said. "A leader who is not going to be afraid of upsetting the status quo one iota; a leader who is going make many tough decisions and not worrying about reelection. And most importantly, Americans need a leader who is going to inspire them as well as providing a visionary leadership, almost Reagan-esqe."
Regardless of what polls say, Meas said he hasn't found those qualities in Romney.
"I am still waiting to find out who Mitt Romney is," Meas said. "Mitt Romney has changed his positions so quickly so many times on so many issues that I am confused."
But Warren sees a better opportunity in other states for Gingrich, whose campaign is lacking in funds.
"Gingrich would be better off focusing his resources on other states where he has a better chance at picking up delegates," she said.
And not to be dismissed, there is still a roar of passion among Ron Paul supporters. The 76-year-old Texas congressman has gathered a nationwide following, particularly among young people and hardcore libertarians.
"Ron Paul enjoys strong grassroots support in the state, and we are doing all we can to get Ron Paul over the 15 percent threshold and as high as we can, in order to gain as many delegates as possible," Paul campaign spokesperson Matt Robinson said.
In the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, nearly half of all voters under age 30 voted for Paul. And even in the conservative South Carolina, Paul managed to get the votes of more than 30 percent of young Republicans -- who seem to be more liberal with social issues, more non-interventionist with foreign policy more focused on reforming monetary policy and cutting government.
Massachusetts has a massive college voter pool, and while the Paul campaign hasn't focused on campus presence, it is seeking to utilize the youth vote's online influence.
"We haven't had a massive organized campaign to reach out to young voters in state, but we have had grassroots volunteers reaching out in many ways," Robinson said. "Ron Paul supporters are especially good at using social media to connect with younger individuals."
Still About Jobs
But in the end, polls show, it's all about who voters think can create jobs. The official national unemployment rate has crept down to 8.3 percent, and in Massachusetts it's down to below 7 percent, but there is still a lot of uncertainty about the job market and voters are still feeling the pain of the worst recession in decades.
And despite Santorum's social conservative cred, Gingrich's loft vision and Paul's bold monetary and foreign policy agendas, employment is likely to be front and foremost on primary voters' minds.
"The top issue for Massachusetts voters, and voters across the country, continues to be the economy and jobs," Warren said. "We see this in exit polling in other primary states, where voters keep citing the economy as their number one concern. People are struggling to afford housing, gas and groceries and they don’t feel Washington has been responsive to their needs."
Who will be your choice tomorrow?
Tell us in the comments, and be sure to tune into Salem Patch — we'll bring you all that need-to-know information as you head to the polls.