Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney continues to be the party front-runner on the national stage. But it's been no secret that he has had a difficult time drumming up excitement among conservatives and Republicans, alike. In one particular area -- faith -- the candidate has struggled to gain favor with evangelicals, with rival Rick Santorum doing a more effective job at courting this particular cohort.
Considering the 437 delegates that are up for grabs during tonight's "Super Tuesday" marathon, the impact of faith is being heavily examined by pundits and journalists, alike.
When comparing Romney and Santorum, the religious dynamics are profound. As noted, Romney, a member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has shown some signs that he's struggling among evangelicals. However, Santorum, a Catholic, has done very well among this portion of the electorate. On the flip side, Santorum has oddly fared poorly among Catholics, with Romney captivating this particular denomination.
The Pew Forum has analyzed polling data from seven of the 11 states where primary contests have occurred. Religious News Service provides a recap of results that corroborate the aforementioned notions:
Though he won evangelicals in two states, in general Romney has performed 15 percentage points better among non-evangelicals, according to an analysis released Friday (March 2) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. [...]
White evangelicals formed more than a third of all GOP primary voters in each state except for Nevada (24 percent) and New Hampshire (21 percent). Romney, a Mormon, won the evangelical vote in those two states, and nearly tied for first in Arizona and Florida. But he lost the evangelical vote badly in three states: Michigan, Iowa and South Carolina.
Somewhat surprisingly, Santorum has not won the Catholic vote in a single state in which data is available, according to the Pew Forum.
In Ohio, a important swing state that is, no doubt, the most watched among today's 10 races, Romney and Santorum have a great deal to gain -- or lose -- depending on how the race concludes. At this point, the two candidates are neck and neck and time is running out.
On the faith front, Ohio is considered heavily evangelical (in 2008, 44 percent of the state identified as evangelical Christian). With Romney continuing to falter among this cohort, many questions remain leading up to tonight. Recently, in Michigan, another state that has a large evangelical population (39 percent), Santorum, though he narrowly lost the state, won the evangelical vote (51 percent to 35 percent).
Tonight, the pressure is on. In Tennessee, another highly-watched state, Romney and Santorum are also relatively close together in the polls, with Santorum entering the night with what polls reveal to be a slight advantage. If Romney is able to secure a victory in Tennessee, he will be able to showcase his ability to compete in the south -- and, particularly, among evangelicals.
Tennessee, Georgia and Oklahoma are all states that the candidates will compete in tonight. Additionally, the majority of each state has Republican primary voters that are predominately (at least according to 2008 exit polls) evangelical. Sixty percent of Republican primary voters in 2008 were evangelicals in Georgia and the proportions were even higher for Tennessee and Oklahoma.
The state of Georgia, at this point, is most likely going to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (he represented the state's 6th Congressional District).
There's no telling what will happen tonight, but Romney's aforementioned struggles among evangelicals could impact his successes this evening. That being said, there are a plethora of factors, including overall candidate viability and voter turnout. In the end, the results are difficult to predict, but the impact of faith will, no doubt, be undeniable.