The state of the nomination process is such that after super Tuesday we will know which way the wind is blowing and whether or not there is a candidate Republican and the Nation can rally around or the Republicans are on collision course with a brokered convention where anything can happen. Here is where I feel the race is at currently and what needs to happen for each candidate to remain a viable candidate.
Mitt Romney can not lose in Michigan. Even a close victory will be a victory and probably enough to keep the establishment Republicans from becoming overly skittish and bail on his campaign. A lose though no matter how close will be devastating. No longer will Mitt be able to claim inevitability or electability. The establishment will be on the search for a candidate that is a proven winner and be able to rally the base while at the same time appeal to the moderates and independents. Mitt does have the money and may be able to push forward but he will be a wounded candidate that will no longer be a viable candidate in November. If Mitt loses in Michigan the base will not rally behind him and if the conservatives sit this election out Mitt will become a landslide loser. Now it may be the case that currently Mitt has the best chance of beating Obama. Mitt has the appeal of independents and moderates. If Mitt can just win Michigan it may collapse the support for Santorum. Let there be no doubt Mitt needs to hang on and win Michigan. Mitt has 9 days to gain the upper hand, his work is cut out for him.
Rick Santorum needs to win in Ohio to remain viable. Santorum should be able to keep it close in Michigan and if he does Ohio should not become an issue for him to win. However, should Santorum slip up and lose Ohio there is no viable path for him as his money will dry up and he will have no where left to run. Michigan would go a long way in ensuring Santorum remains the front runner in Ohio but any major gaffes or big loses in Michigan, Washington, and Arizona could well spell the end for Santorum. Everyone expects Santorum to lose Arizona but Santorum just needs to keep Romney under 50% and a close win in Michigan or even a close loss will keep Ohio in play for Santorum. Ohio is Santorum's last stand, he either wins here or he is done for this campaign season.
Newt Gingrich needs to have a good super Tuesday. In all likelihood he needs to win two and probably three states in order to remain a viable candidate. Gingrich needs to win his home State of Georgia and Tennessee. Additionally, Gingrich probably needs to win Oklahoma. If Gingrich is a viable candidate he has to win his home State and regionalize the race. Gingrich has to win the South and West and have Romney winning Ohio and elsewhere to have a path to the nomination. Right now it is not looking good for Gingrich at all, he needs to come up big on Super Tuesday and not being on the ballot in Virginia is not helping his cause. A loss in Georgia or Tennessee will be the end of the Gingrich Campaign.
Ron Paul probably has no viable path for the nomination except through a brokered Convention and then even receiving the nod is slim at best. Paul's greatest weapon is remain in the race and win delegates. Paul can be a kingmaker or at least ensure he has a place at the convention table as the Republican platform is being built. Paul needs some delegates to steer the platform towards the libertarian side of the party. There are still caucus states left on the calendar and Paul needs to keep winning delegates in these events.
Now I do not believe a brokered convention is going to happen. However, it is still very much in play. In order to remain a viable option a lot of things must happen between now and the MAR 7, the day after super Tuesday. First Santorum needs to win in Michigan and Ohio. Second, Gingrich must win Georgia and Tennessee. The race must become a three way regional race with Santorum winning the Midwest, Romney the North East and West Coast and Gingrich winning the South. If Gingrich can not win the South it will quickly become a two man race between Santorum and Romney. Romney only loses if he should somehow find a way to lose Michigan and is unable to get any momentum for super Tuesday. I don't see the stars aligning right now for a brokered convention but it is still a viable path as long as Gingrich, Santorum, and Romney remain with viable paths and keep receiving money. Three weeks and we should know exactly where the nomination is headed.