GWEN IFILL: We turn now to the presidential campaign, as the candidates turned their attention to next week's big Super Tuesday contests.
Mitt Romney beat Rick Santorum by just three points in Michigan last night. But that didn't stop him from his victory lap.
MITT ROMNEY (R): We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough, and that's all that counts.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
GWEN IFILL: Even that narrow win over a stiff Santorum challenge proved enough to head off what could have been an embarrassing loss for Romney in his home state.
A clear-cut win in Arizona awarded Romney 29 delegates, and Michigan officials said the close finish there would split the count in half. With 10 states voting on Super Tuesday next week, Romney today moved on to the next big potential prize today, Ohio.
MITT ROMNEY: The reason I won yesterday in Michigan and Arizona was because I'm talking about the issue people care most about and because I understand that issue personally. And that's the economy and job creation, balancing budgets.
The skill of creating more jobs, with less debt and smaller government is something I understand. When the media asked people coming out of polls yesterday why they voted for me, what their interests were, those people who cared about the economy and jobs voted for me.
GWEN IFILL: Santorum took his campaign to another Super Tuesday state, Tennessee. His strong Michigan showing, he said, put wind at his back.
RICK SANTORUM (R): We went out there with a positive, hopeful message, a message about jobs, a message about energy, a message about faith and family and the importance of that as foundational institutions of our country. And you know what? The people of Michigan across the board, across the board, responded to that.
GWEN IFILL: Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul did not contest Michigan or Arizona.
For Gingrich, the path to revival runs through the South. He spent today in Georgia, the state he represented in Congress.
NEWT GINGRICH (R): We need to stand up and we need to win this. And I think the way we win it is, we draw very broad distinctions.
So, if you help me next Tuesday -- and next Tuesday is very important. Georgia is the biggest state in delegates on Super Tuesday. So, we have a real chance here to send a signal to the country, but we need your help to do it.
GWEN IFILL: And Paul spent last night in Virginia, where only he and Romney qualified for the ballot.
REP. RON PAUL, R-Texas: We're still are winning a lot of delegates, and that's what counts.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
GWEN IFILL: Four hundred and nineteen delegates will be up for grabs next Tuesday.
To clinch the nomination, the Republican Party's eventual nominee has to collect 1,144 delegates. So far, no one is even close. As of last night, Mitt Romney leads with 135. Newt Gingrich has 32. Rick Santorum has 19. And Texas Congressman Ron Paul has eight. Another 126 delegates are not bound to any one candidate.
For a closer look at the contests ahead and what's at stake, we're joined by Josh Putnam, political science professor at North Carolina's Davidson University. He runs the political blog Frontloading HQ, and those are his delegate estimates. And NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni.
Christina, after last night, after seeing what Romney did in Arizona and in Michigan, is it safe to call him the frontrunner again?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: I think so, yeah. And particularly when you look at the map, it's very difficult for any of these other candidates to really forge a path forward, because he can collect in this sort of slow build toward having that magic number, even though it could take months and months.
GWEN IFILL: But winning delegates doesn't -- winning elections, as he did yesterday, doesn't necessarily equal winning delegates. There's a disconnect there somewhere.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yeah, there is. And I think that's what Super Tuesday is really going to take a look at that. It's how many states, what types of states is he able to win? Can he win in Ohio, which is a very similar electorate to Michigan, which he was able to pull out this very small win, or is he able to win any of these Southern states?
Will he even really compete in the Southern states? What sort of point is he trying to prove about his strategy over the next week?
GWEN IFILL: Josh Putnam down there in North Carolina, you keep track of this a lot. So, tell us how you add up your numbers, how you keep track of which states award delegates when and how, and what difference it makes at this stage.
JOSH PUTNAM, Frontloading HQ: Well, obviously we're very early in the process right now.
We're -- we have been stuck in between this kind of momentum sort of contest and one where we're counting delegates. And it's becoming more and more clear that we're at the -- on the latter half of that, focusing on those delegates.
So they're -- without getting too far down into the weeds here, we have got a few different ways that we can look at delegates. One, we're looking at the ones that are bound according to the rules, the state party rules in each individual state.
And that's more defined in primary states, like what we saw last night out of Michigan and Arizona. It's more clearly defined than what we're seeing in caucus states, where the rules are less defined and, you know, where the discrepancy in some of these counts lie right now, mine vs. others.
And added on to this is something similar to what we saw in 2008 on the Democratic side, the discussion about superdelegates. Of course, on the Republican side, they're referred to as automatic delegates. They're only three in each state. Most of those three per state are unbound, free to choose whichever candidate they want to. In some states, they're bound according to state party rules.
GWEN IFILL: Well, give me -- for example, last night in Michigan, it was clear by the end of the evening, anyway, that Mitt Romney had won, but it wasn't clear until almost the end of the day today how many delegates he had won, which this -- I guess we're now hearing 15 delegates for him, 15 delegates for Santorum.
Was that because they're apportioned by congressional district?
JOSH PUTNAM: Yes.
So, again, something that differs in the Republican Party vs. the Democratic Party is that we don't have a flat or uniform proportionality across all states. On the Republican side, that's something they have traditionally left up to the state parties to decide how they want to allocate these delegates.
And in Michigan, last night what we saw was some of them were allocated, the congressional district vote, and that was a winner-take-all allocation, two per district. And then the remaining two delegates that they had out of their penalized 30 were proportional, that Mitt Romney got one and Rick Santorum got the other. And that's what we see in several other states.
GWEN IFILL: Christina, we heard Newt Gingrich say today, Georgia, if you give me your votes, I'll have the most delegates on Super Tuesday. We saw Ron Paul say, hey, we're still counting delegates.
We're assuming that that's how these candidates are now plotting their decision, their strategy about where to do go?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: That's exactly what they're doing.
And the Gingrich folks particularly have a lot riding on Georgia. They think he'll do well in the South. They will think that he can win over these conservative voters. They have compared it a lot to South Carolina, which was his last real victory, his only victory. And they basically see that if he can take a big number in Georgia, he might even do winner-take-all and have a huge delegate prize there.
The Santorum people say that they feel confident in Georgia. They think that they can keep him under that 50 percent, Gingrich, and get a bunch of delegates there. Then they're looking at Tennessee and Oklahoma. These states, they really think that they can amass delegates. And they also are all contesting these caucuses.
GWEN IFILL: So, we saw Santorum today in Tennessee. We saw Romney today in Ohio. We saw Ron Paul last night in Virginia and we saw Newt Gingrich in Georgia.
Are those basically the four states that we're watching for the next week?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yeah. Ohio is really sort of the biggest test.
And the Gingrich and Paul people are calling it a Mitt-Rick rematch of Michigan. But it's a very important state, obviously a battleground state in the general election. It's a state that's sort of equivalent for Santorum to what Romney's Michigan was. It's close to Pennsylvania. It's a lot of the voters that should go with him. He's got a big lead there. What's going to happen?
But these other states sort of in the middle of where some of them are going to be contesting, but I would really watch Tennessee and Georgia. Then Oklahoma is the other big prize.
GWEN IFILL: Josh Putnam, almost since this campaign began, we started racing to the end, when would it end? And what we don't know now is how long it will take to get to that 1,144 number. What's your estimate?
JOSH PUTNAM: Well, I would say it's probably about 5:15 on May 15.
JOSH PUTNAM: I mean, there's no real good answer to that.
Given the fact that we've got a much different calendar in 2012 relative to what we saw in 2008, that we have got a much more evenly dispersed calendar in terms of the contests, this is likely to play out until at least April, if not beyond then.
GWEN IFILL: Because -- you're saying because, picking up on what Christina said, the states that these candidates are focusing on don't necessarily deliver delegates that gets them -- that allows them to sew things up?
JOSH PUTNAM: Well, again, it gets back to what Christina said at the beginning of the discussion here, is that what we're looking at is just a very slow, incremental build of delegates across this contest.
And if the way the delegates have been allocated thus far projects on to the rest of the contest, Mitt Romney ever so gradually adds to that total from week to week. But it takes us a while to get to that 1,144 that's necessary to wrap up the nomination.
GWEN IFILL: And, Christina, today, we -- just watching the way the campaign unfolded post-Michigan, post-Arizona, we saw that Mitt Romney has not at all let up on Rick Santorum. He's still landed on him with all feet today.
And then we heard this late this afternoon, that Rick Santorum raised $9 million this month. So this fight is just beginning.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: It really is.
And that's where Romney's resources do allow him to just touch on all of these Super Tuesday states. We are going to see results from 10 states next week. So he might do some fly-arounds. He might do ads in those. But Santorum having the money to compete and then coupled with a super PAC that has a millionaire behind it, two millionaires behind it that's helping him, he might be able to keep even with Romney in these states.
And so that's where the money does matter. And Gingrich, we should always point out, wouldn't even be in this race if it wasn't for his super PAC really still able to keep him in financially.
GWEN IFILL: I have been on those fly-arounds. They are no fun at all.
Christina Bellantoni, Josh Putnam, thank you both very much.