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As it happened: Santorum runs Romney close on dramatic ‘Super Tuesday’

A dramatic night in the race for the Republican Party nomination, and we followed it all the way…

WELCOME TO OUR live coverage of results as voters in ten US states decide which one of the four Republican Party candidates they want to face Barack Obama in the November presidential election.

With 437 delegates at stake or around 40 per cent of what is needed to secure the nomination, there’s plenty for Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul to compete for. Here’s a quick guide to the candidates and here’s what a caucus is.

We’ll be updating you with the latest developments on what is known as ‘Super Tuesday’ in the US as well as bring you the state results right into the small hours of Wednesday morning. Stay in touch by leaving a comment below. Let’s do this.

Main points:

  • Mitt Romney pulls ahead of Rick Santorum in tight Ohio battle.
  • Newt Gingrich wins Georgia.
  • Romney wins Virginia, Vermont, Massachusetts and Idaho
  • Santorum wins Oklahoma, Tennessee, and North Dakota
  • Alaska still to report

Stick the coffee on, and get the Lucozade out because we’re up all night liveblogging the Republican Party primary and caucus results from the ten states that are deciding who they want to face Barack Obama in November’s presidential election. We’ll have top analysis, the best of the web and the all important results.

To boil it down as to what to look out for tonight, the big one is Ohio. The old saying ‘As goes Ohio, so goes the nation’ (which is often applied to other US states) is not relevant in this instance as we are at the mere primary stage but if former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney were to emerge victorious here it would be an indication that he is on course the secure the nomination he has just not been able to wrap up over the past three months.

That’s because of the hard-fought campaign of former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum who has accrued smaller victories but enough delegates to put the heebie jeebies in the Romney camp. The pair are virtually tied in pre-ballot polls in Ohio. So if Santorum wins, it really is game-on.

As for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas congressman Ron Paul, they remain in the race but both are extremely unlikely to win the nomination. Tonight, Gingrich will to win his home state of Georgia, which carries the most delegates (76), while Paul will hope for strong performances in the three  caucuses in Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota.

Another interesting state tonight is Virginia where only two of the four candidates still in the race are actually on the ballot paper. Mitt Romney is virtually assured victory and perhaps all of the State’s delegates (49) as both Santorum and Gingrich failed to file the relevant paper work in time to make the ballot paper. Normally Virginia can be a key swing state that is the marquee contest on Super Tuesday. Not so tonight.

CBS News has done some Super Tuesday exit polls and reports that “defeating Obama is the candidate quality that mattered most to those voting in primaries today”.

That bodes well for Romney who for all his campaign gaffes and apparent conservative flaws appears to have the political machine and centrist tendencies to give Obama a run for his money in the autumn. Santorum’s at times extreme social conservatism could count against him, many feel.

All that said this contest has been a bruising one or in the words of Barbara, husband of President George HW and mother of President Geroge W, “the worst campaign I’ve ever seen in my life,” as she told a conference in Dallas today. Ouch.

Here’s Mitt Romney voting in his home state of Massachusetts a short time ago. I say home-state, he has a number of home states. He was governor of Massachusetts, but he grew up Michigan and also has a home in New Hampshire. Anyway, here’s Mitt in fine spirits with his missus, Ann:

Speaking of Romney, did you know he speaks French? Here he is speaking French:

It’s actually been used against him in campaign ads while the French newspaper Le Monde has delved deep into Romney’s time in France as a young missionary. Buzz Feed has been taking a look at that.

After casting his vote in Massachusetts a short time ago, Romney told the assembled press: “This is a process of gathering enough delegates to be the nominee.” Well we’re glad he got that clear.

Meanwhile, here’s a right stinger of a tweet from Democratic political strategist and commentator Donna Brazile on the aforementioned failure of Santorum and Gingrich to get on the ballot on Virginia:


No sign of any pictures of Newt Gingrich voting in his home state of Georgia on the wires but here he is looking a little shady at a campaign event in Tennessee, where he hopes to do well, on Monday:

A commenter points out that this liveblog is neglecting the most important race of the day.

That is the primary vote in the ninth congressional district of Ohio where Joe Wurzelbacher aka Joe the Plumber is favourite to win the Republican nomination. He even has the backing of one-time presidential hopeful Herman Cain.

Who is the Joe the Plumber you ask? Well he shot to stardom, inexplicably, in 2008 after grilling Barack Obama on the campaign trail:

“If Gingrich doesn’t win Georgia, he’s out. If Santorum can’t take Tennessee and Ohio he’s damaged,” says the BBC’s North America editor Mark Mardell. Make of that what you will but this liveblogger is inclined to agree with Mr Mardell, a former Europe correspondent for the Beeb. #trivia.

I said earlier that there was no sign of Newt Gingrich voting in his home state of Georgia and that’s because he doesn’t live there. Doh. Though he was the congressman in the state’s 6th district for 20 years including his time as House Speaker, he and third wife Callista actually live in Virginia.

And Politico reports that he and Mrs Gingrich ain’t voting there either. Why? Well because he isn’t on the ballot as we reported earlier. Scarlet for them.

“In this Republican primary, when given a choice between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney [who are both on the ballot], they could not pick either one,” Gingrich campaign spokesperson RC Hammond told NBC News.

Polls close in Virginia and Vermont in 20 minutes time. Virginia should go to Romney, the only questions is whether he gets some or all of the delegates on offer there. While in Vermont, the Romney campaign also expects to do well there.

Exit polls are ten-a-penny on nights like this and here’s one from CNN which suggests that many voters do not think Mitt Romney is conservative enough. In Georgia, 53 per cent agreed with that statement, 47 per cent in Ohio and 48 per cent in Tennessee.

Apologies, Georgia‘s polls are also closing at midnight, less than 15 minutes away. Newt Gingrich simply must win there otherwise he should be prepping his concession speech.

T-minus 7 minutes and counting to polls closing in Virginia, Georgia and Vermont. Everybody hold tight, this is about to get real.

The Telegraph reports that Ron Paul showed up on CNN to say that he is focusing on the three caucus states: Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska. Little surprise there, given libertarian Paul’s strongest performances so far have been in states that hold caucuses.

Sky News is about to gets its Super Tuesday coverage under way. There will be a news wall and an iPad involved. That’s for sure.

CNN has projected victory for Newt Gingrich in the Georgia primary as has Associated Press. And so it is.

Georgia exit polls via CNN: Gingrich 45 per cent, Romney 26 per cent, Santorum 20 per cent , Paul 8 per cent. CBS News now says that Romney is going to win in Virginia and Vermont.

A message from Newt Gingrich:

So Fox News reckons it’s too close to call in Virginia which is interesting given only he and Ron Paul are on the ballot. Apparently there’s a late surge from Paul in Virginia. That’s really not good news for Romney.

The very latest polls from Virginia make “folks a little nervous” Mike Allen says on Politico’s live coverage. In reality, Virginia should go to Romney despite some networks dilly dallying. The Times’ Nico Hines says it straight:

NBC News calls Virginia for Mitt Romney. If we were in the business of polling and exit polling and it wasn’t just this lone liveblogger we’d probably call it for him too. Sure why not.

Breaking away from our Super Tuesday coverage for just a minute, there has been a serious shooting Kildare tonight in which two men have died, here’s the details.

The Associated Press says that Mitt Romney has won Virginia.

Polls closing in Ohio and North Dakota in mere minutes.

Over in Vermont CNN’s exit polls say that Mitt Romney has about 38 per cent of the vote followed by Ron Paul in second place.

Polls closing in Ohio. Also in North Dakota it would seem although a result from its caucus will not be clear for a little while.

Ohio is already too close to call. Polls will have predicted this given that Romney and Santorum were neck and neck but really a lot of what happens tonight will hinge on what happens in this state. So we wait for the what the various US networks and news agencies project.

This just happened:

The chat on Twitter is that Romney has done quite well in Ohio, seemingly on course to win it. But chat is just that, chat. We’ll wait before we say anything definitive, thank you very much.

Ron Paul is speaking to supporters in North Dakota. His supporters shout “End the Fed! End the Fed” referring to the US Federal Reserve. He wants to end all wars and cut loads of spending. Loads.

“Touching that Ron Paul is wearing the tie his wife gave him for Christmas in 1973,” says veteran US correspondent Tony Harnden on Twitter. Is it really? Judge for yourself:

Paul wants to cut $1 trillion from the federal budget and seemingly end all overseas spending from the United States. He is whizzing through his policies at breakneck speed. We can’t keep up, neither can Sky News so it has started talking over him and has now gone to a break.

On the excellent and at times mind boggling New York Times Five Thirty Eight blog, veteran pollster Nate Silver acknowledges that it is too close to call in Ohio but also notes that Gingrich and Paul will win few if any delegates at all. Ohio requires candidates to reach the 20 per cent threshold in order to receive proportional delegates. Exit polls suggest this will not be the case for either.

CNN exit polls have Romney on 38 per cent and Santorum on 36.5 per cent in Ohio. Close, so close.

More polls closing in five minutes including Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Rick Santorum is expected to speak shortly at an event in Ohio where it’s tight.

A high-profile Romney supporter whose name I did not catch on Sky News says America’s economic problems are “terrific”. Right so.

Mitt Romney is going to speak in Boston, Massachusetts where the polls are closing in less than 90 seconds.

Polls close in Massachusetts and CNN projects that Mitt Romney will win the state where he was once governor.

AP says that Mitt Romney wins Massachusetts.

Fox News projects that Rick Santorum will win Oklahoma:

Rick Santorum is doing well in Tennessee too and although no network appears to have called that for him, he leads Mitt Romney who ranks in second place and Newt Gingrich in third place.

Mitt Romney has taken Massachusetts, where he was once the governor, with a massive 70 per cent of the vote it would seem. The largest margin we have yet seen in this current race.

Tennessee would be a good win for Rick Santorum and a CNN exit poll there suggests that he leads with 35 per cent of the vote, Romney 28 per cent, and Gingrich on 23 per cent.

In other news, Newt Gingrich will get Secret Service protection from tomorrow, CBS News reports. But how much longer will he be in the race to enjoy or endure that?

Former George W Bush economic speechwriter David Frum has something to say:

So there.

Newt Gingrich is expected on stage in Atlanta, Georgia imminently. He was the first winner of the night taking the state where he was a congressman for 20 years.

Sarah Palin, yes Sarah Palin, has just been on CNN in which she said “I will not tell you who I voted for” having seemingly gone to a caucus that is being held in her home state tonight. The former vice presidential nominee is keeping those cards close to her chest.

Here’s a nice graph off the New York Times home page which gives us an indication of where things are at as we creep towards the 1.30am Irish time mark. Time to stick the kettle on:

At Gingrich HQ in Atlanta there’s some prayers happening. Sky News has just teased an interview with former Bush administration advisor Karl Rove. Lovely stuff.

This just happened over on CNN. I’m sorry I missed it, I really am:

There’s some fella singing at Gingrich HQ now. Crikey.

Karl Rove has a very oval-shaped head. He ran George W Bush’s two successful presidential campaigns. “So far everybody is going to be able to walk away with something to brag about,” he tells Sky News. “You ought to just sit back watch and enjoy it,” he says to criticism of this whole primary process.

Now the, NBC News is projecting that Rick Santorum will win Tennessee. That would be a very good win indeed for the former Pennsylvania senator.

Meanwhile, Karl Rove tells poor Martin Stanford on Sky News that he needs to be “schooled” on American politics. Harsh.

Gingrich is shaking a lot of hands as he arrives on stage in Atlanta. His wife Callista is with him and the crowd shout “Newt! Newt! Newt!” Perfect timing as Karl Rove finishes up on Sky News and Gingrich prepares to speak to the masses… right after Callista introduces him: “What an exciting evening,” she says unemotionally, reading from notes.

AP projects Rick Santorum wins Tennessee. That’s good enough for us.

Crikey, Callista Gingrich has no charisma whatsoever. First Lady material she is not. Anyway here’s Newt…

Newt: “We survived the elites’ attempt to kill us in the summer because of you,” meaning the audience, I assume. “You believed in the power of ideas”.

We interrupt Newt to bring you a clip of Sarah Palin after she voted in Alaska. Would she run? No doors are being closed…

Back in Atlanta, Gingrich is claimign that “the forces of Wall Street” conspired to “eviscerate” him as he details the various trials and tribulations of his campaign so far from leading the polls nationally to being beaten in Iowa. Also takes a shot at Santorum: “Santorum did something very clever – he went to three states nobody was in. And he won them.” Ouchies.

Gingrich has referred to himself as a “tortoise” who will win the race, even if it takes a while. You know, like a tortoise. Geddit?

We’re getting a bit bored of Newt so here’s a picture of Ron Paul in North Dakota earlier:

Back to Gingrich briefly who tells his audience in Atlanta: “In the morning, we’re going on to Alabama, we’re going on to Mississippi, we’re going on to Kansas, and that’s just this week.”

As a bit of an American political anorak, I am reminded of Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean and this ill-fated speech in Iowa in 2004:

He didn’t go to Washington in the end…

More videos, here’s Newt Gingrich talking about himself being like a tortoise literally minutes ago:

Newt Gingrich is still speaking but we’re going to stop listening now and point out that the picture of Ron Paul below is with his wife Carol Paul. Awh.

Latest results in Ohio have Santorum and Romney both on 38 per cent. Wow.

Newt Gingrich has stopped talking now.

Apparently Rick Santorum is going to speak in about five minutes time. Good night for him so far. But we await the result of Ohio where victory for him there would be only massive.

Right now Fox News has apparently got Santorum ahead in Ohio by two percentage points. Another poll quoted on Sky News says that Santorum is on 39 per cent and Romney is on 36 per cent. Which is significant although by no means certain.

Indeed, it’s worth point out at this stage that Santorum does not qualify for all the delegates on offer in the state as he did not file the paper work in certain electoral districts. I’ve thus far shied away from assigning delegates to candidates purely because of the uncertainty over the percentages that they are winning by or that they have attained in various states. All that will be clearer in the morning… or later this morning.

Rick Santorum on stage in Ohio says he’s just been in the war room which doubles as the weight room in the school building where tonight’s rally is. He said he pumped some iron before he came out. There is no sweat on his brow. I doubt he did.

Santorum has his mum Kay on stage with him. She’s 93 and she looks well for her age to be fair to her. The former Pennsylvania senator is speaking in Steubenville, Ohio. Say it fast and you might mishear it as ‘Stupidville’.

“As it looks right now, we’re going to get at least a couple gold medals and a bunch of silver medals,” Santorum says.

As Santorum speaks about the apparent travesty that is the Obama administration’s reform of health care in the US, or ‘Obamacare’ as Republicans call it, we hear that Mitt Romney is due on stage in the next five minutes.

“Once government has control of your life, then they’ve gotcha,” says Santorum. Yikes.

This is going to be interesting. Romney due to speak any minute now at a rally in Massachusetts and Santorum, if he’s anything like Gingrich, is only getting started in Ohio. What will the networks do? What will they do!?

Sky News has cut from Santorum’s speech as has Politico which is also being broadcast on C-SPAN in the US  - the American version of Oireachtas TV.

AP now has Santorum three points ahead of Romney with 26 per cent of precincts reporting BUT the Romney camp says that some of its “best counties” in the state are still to report.

Veteran US broadcaster Dan Rather has said that if Romney doesn’t carry Ohio he is in “big trouble”.

The Telegraph’s Jon Swaine on Twitter: “That five-minute warning for Romney delivered again, just now.” Oh.

Mitt Romney is imminent…

Mitt Romney on stage with his wife Ann who points out that her husband won Massachusetts with 72 per cent of the vote.

Ann Romney thanks various state representatives and gives a shout out to Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown who is in the midst of a tough re-election battle in November.

“I believe he is the only person who can turn around America,” says Ann. “She’s the best,” says Mitt as he takes the mic. Love in the air, ladies and gents.

“There are three states now under our belt and counting. We’re going to get more before this night is over,” Romney says.

“We’re gonna take that victory all the way to the White House,” Romney says of his massive win in his former home state. Or is it his current home state? We’re not sure.

“‘I’m not going to let you down. I’m going to get this nomination,” Romney tells the audience.

A mention of “President Obama” draws boos from the crowd. Now there’s a surprise. Not.

It’s not a campaign rally without a shout of “USA! USA! USA!” and this crowd has duly obliged.

“We’ve seen enough of this president over the last few years to know that we don’t need another five of them,” Romney say. The crowd responds: “We need Mitt! We need Mitt!”

This, folks, is a love in.

Away from the Mitt-meister, the esteemed pollster Nate Silver has written on the excellent FiveThirtyEight blog that “Mr Santorum has the slightest of edges” in Ohio based on the latest data that he is pouring over.  Read more here.

And Mitt goes on but the latest news out of Ohio is not good for him: 55 per cent of the votes counted and Santorum is on 38 per cent with Romney on 36 per cent. Still no-one is calling it but the Santorum lead holds steady.

As an aside, as I said earlier it’s difficult to get into the all-important delegate issue until we are certain of the percentage share of the votes that each candidate has won in each state.

Tonight, it’s winner takes all in some states like Georgia while in others it is proportional like Massachusetts. But if you are interested, here is the delegate count assembled by Politico based on results in so far:

Oh look, it’s gone past 3am. Thanks for sticking around. Plenty more excitement still to come.

Sticking with delegates for a moment, here’s the Google/Associated Press delegate tracker which is not as resourced as the Politico one but nonetheless paints an interesting picture.

Clearly all candidates are far off the magic 1144 delegates number but it’s all about momentum which is why the result in Ohio is all important:

In the North Dakota caucus, early indications are a win for Rick Santorum there. Which is not good news for Ron Paul BUT note that just four per cent of the votes have been counted.

In fact now CNN projects that Rick Santorum wins the North Dakota caucus.

That is Santorum’s third victory of the night, bringing him level in terms of state victories on this Super Tuesday with Romney. And still we wait for Ohio.

We’re also waiting on Idaho and Alaska. You’d have to feel that Ron Paul needs to win one of those otherwise he may consider dropping out of the race.

The Guardian’s liveblog carries this nugget: “Ron Paul has nipped in like a cunning fox and stolen three delegates from under Mitt Romney’s nose in Virginia, by winning the smallest congressional district.”

The cheeky bugger.

The biggest cities in Ohio have not reported yet, Politico says, cautioning that it’s going to be a long night ahead. Better stick the kettle on again…

Here’s Mitt and Ann Romney having great craic altogether as they walk on stage in Boston earlier:

And here’s Rick Santorum lashing the lips on his wife Karen at his rally in Ohio earlier:

All smiles for Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista in Atlanta as he takes the state of Georgia:

And finally, here’s Ron Paul speaking in North Dakota much earlier tonight:

Okay, it’s all eyes on Ohio so here’s a county-by-county breakdown of how it’s looking in the ‘Rust Belt’ state as it is known, via CNN.

It is purple for Santorum and red for Romney but the caveat – and a big one at that – is that not all the votes are in in each county and some counties carry more weight than others. You can interact with the Ohio map here:

Political commentator Jeffrey Robinson on Sky News says that Mitt Romney cannot win the general election and that he has lost the night because of Ohio. This is the first time I’ve heard someone say explicitly what a bad night it has been for Romney. It certainly hasn’t been a super Super Tuesday for the former Massachusetts governor.

Take a look at this from Real Clear Politics. With 75 per cent of votes counted in Ohio, the margins are tiny: 0.7 percentage points separating Romney and Santorum:

Apparently Sarah Palin voted for Newt Gingrich. I stopped caring a few hours ago but good for her.

There is talk of a recount in Ohio if it remains as close as it currently is. An automatic recount is triggered if there is 0.25 per cent or less between the candidates. Dear god.

And now for something completely different. Did you see Newt Gingrich falling asleep as he waited to speak to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) earlier? Here’s the full story on The Blaze.

Okay, NBC News is now reporting that it will NOT call Ohio tonight. Mike Allen on Politico reckons that Romney could win by less than 1,000 votes. In which case, Santorum will surely look for a recount.

Right now on Real Clear Politics, there is 0.2 percentage points separating Santorum and Romney. Romney is clearly cutting into Santorum’s lead but even if he is to win the state, it will not be convincing.

Meanwhile in Idaho, Romney is cruising on 77 per cent of the vote with 16 per cent of ballots counted there. They’ve not even started tallying the results of the caucus in Alaska. Though we know that Sarah Palin voted for Newt Gingrich there.

CBS News has Mitt Romney ahead in Ohio but not by much, one percentage point or just over 6,000 votes and still it could swing.

Here’s an excerpt from Rick Santorum’s speech at a rally in Ohio earlier, via AP. Some talk that he has not left the building where this speech was delivered in anticipation of a result from Ohio sometime in the next few hours:

Here is Mitt Romney addressing a rally in Boston earlier, again via AP:

Fox News has projected that Mitt Romney wins Idaho. That’s his fourth victory of the night.

NBC also calls Idaho for Romney. There are 90 per cent of votes counted in Ohio and Romney is leading 37.7 per cent with Santorum on 37.2 per cent.

Such is the margin of victory for Romney in Idaho at some 75 + per cent, he looks set to take all 32 of the state’s delegates.

The talk maybe about Santorum and Romney and the race that is too close to call in Ohio. But it is worth noting what a disappointing night it has been for Newt Gingrich.

The former House Speaker may have won his home state of Georgia but as Nate Silver points out, he is running in third place or worse in all the states reporting so far and aside from his delegate haul in Georgia looks unlikely to pick up much else.

Incidentally, coming up next after this Super Tuesday is the less Super Saturday where Guam, Kansas, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands go to the polls. We won’t be liveblogging that, unfortunately.

Now here’s an interesting snippet from tonight’s proceedings:

Rick Perry? Oh, this guy:

Right then we’re coming up to 5am here and we’re contemplating calling it quits for the night/morning. Mitt Romney appears to be on course to win in Ohio but it will not be convincing and there is a question about whether he will get over the line enough to avoid the  triggering of an automatic recount.

It’s 5am and with 95 per cent of precincts reporting Ohio, Romney is in the lead by around 7,500 votes from Santorum.

Super Tuesday becomes Super Wednesday on the east coast of the United States. Over the Atlantic, we’ve been in Wednesday for a good five hours now. And sure isn’t it grand.

At this point, we’re going to wrap it up. It’s incredibly close in Ohio and it looks as if Romney is going to eek out a victory but it will be a hollow one.

This has been a very good night for Rick Santorum who has once again shown that the man he might like to paint as the ‘Massachusetts Moderate’ just cannot seal the deal.

Super Tuesday has been far from decisive in determining who the nominee will be to face Barack Obama in the autumn. Odds are that it will be Mitt Romney who will take the nomination but the fact that he cannot close the deal will concern Republicans and encourage Democrats ahead of the general election in November.

As for Newt Gingrich, victory in Georgia was not followed up with decent performances anywhere else while Ron Paul’s failure to win a state means he may now consider dropping out altogether.

In summary, a good night for Santorum and a difficult one for Romney.

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