If Mitt Romney was harmed by the “Etch A Sketch” comment made by one of his advisers or by his loss in Louisiana over the weekend, it doesn’t seem to be preventing him from being in position to win in Wisconsin, which holds its primary on Tuesday.
Mr. Romney now leads the polls in Wisconsin, a state that had once seemed relatively favorable for Rick Santorum. A survey from Marquette University, released on Tuesday, gave Mr. Romney an eight-point lead in the state. That is a slightly smaller margin than the one in an earlier Rasmussen Reports poll, which had put Mr. Romney 13 points ahead.
At an earlier stage in the nomination campaign, a lead of about 11 points — as Mr. Romney now holds in the FiveThirtyEight forecast for Wisconsin — might have seemed like a gap that Mr. Santorum could easily overcome. The past several weeks of the campaign have been fairly stable, however; the Gallup national tracking poll has put Mr. Romney ahead ever since he won Michigan and Arizona on Feb. 28.
If Mr. Romney has yet to consolidate every group within the Republican coalition, there are signs that some voters around the margins have come around to him. A recent poll in Pennsylvania, Mr. Santorum’s home state, now shows an essentially tied race, after Mr. Santorum had once held a clear lead there.
In Wisconsin, likewise, Mr. Santorum had held a clear lead in two polls conducted in February but has been at a deficit in the most recent ones.
Wisconsin can have a rebellious political culture and would not necessarily be the first state to consolidate around an inevitable-seeming nominee, especially considering how poorly Mr. Romney did in neighboring Minnesota.
But even if the idiosyncrasies of Wisconsin are slightly less favorable to Mr. Romney than its demographics alone might suggest, the state is not so far from the median of the Republican electorate that it is likely to vote for Mr. Santorum when he trails Mr. Romney by about 10 points in national surveys. And with Mr. Romney having the advertising advantage in Wisconsin, as he usually does, Mr. Santorum is more likely to achieve an upset there by changing the national conversation than by grinding out a victory tooth-and-nail.
Nor can Mr. Santorum count on consolidating support from Newt Gingrich’s former supporters, even though Mr. Gingrich’s campaign has gone into a sort of hibernation period. Mr. Gingrich is at only about 7 percent support in the recent Wisconsin polls, so not very many of his supporters are still up for grabs.
Mr. Santorum has outperformed his polls in many states, including Louisiana last week, so there is still the chance of an upset. Otherwise, however, Tuesday could be a very strong night for Mr. Romney.
Wisconsin awards its delegates on a winner-take-all basis, although partly based on the statewide vote count and partly at the Congressional district level. The overall winner of the state receives 18 delegates; an additional 24 are awarded, 3 at a time, to the winner of each of the state’s eight Congressional districts.
Although Mr. Santorum could be more competitive in the Third, Seventh and Eighth Congressional Districts, which lie outside Milwaukee and Madison and their suburbs, winning those alone wouldn’t get him very far, yielding him 9 delegates from Wisconsin to Mr. Romney’s 33.
Mr. Romney is also favored in the other contests on Tuesday. Maryland, which awards its delegates on a similar basis to Wisconsin, has not had any recent polling, but its well-off and urbane demographics would seem to favor Mr. Romney, even though the state is nominally Southern.
Mr. Romney should also win the 16 delegates on Tuesday in the District of Columbia, where Mr. Santorum is not on the ballot.