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What if America's Super Tuesday isn't so super after all?

By Jonathan Mann, CNN
updated 6:40 PM EST, Mon March 5, 2012
Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich (L-R) are all hoping for big wins on Super Tuesday.
Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich (L-R) are all hoping for big wins on Super Tuesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ten states hold Republican primaries on per Tuesday
  • Romney and Santorum are stastically tied in some polls; Paul and Gingrich trail
  • Neither Romney nor Santorum expected to win convincingly on Super Tuesday

(CNN) -- Super Tuesday is traditionally a turning point in the campaign for the U.S. presidency, but it may pass without having the impact its name implies because the Republican Party has a pesky problem -- it can't decide whom it wants in the White House.

"What you're seeing is that the Republican Party wants to fall in love," said Republican radio host Michael Medved.

Mostly it's just been flirting. Four major candidates remain in the race after months of campaigning -- former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum are now trading first place in many polls, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul trailing behind them.

Read more: CNN profiles the presidential candidates

Super Tuesday might have settled things. It's named for the dramatic effect the day has had on past presidential races.

'SNL' looks at Romney's winning streak

Traditionally, the major political parties choose their nominees for the presidential election state by state in a series of primary elections. Based on the results of those elections, candidates are awarded a number of delegates that then vote for them at the Republican national party convention in the summer before the presidential election.

In order to secure the Republican nomination for president, a candidate must win 1,144 delegates. According to CNN's unofficial estimate, the frontrunner Romney has 207 delegates so far; Santorum is next with 86, followed by Paul at 46 and Gingrich trailing with 39.

Read more: Where candidates stand on issues

The process starts slowly until Super Tuesday gives it a sudden burst of speed, often separating the contenders from the pretenders in the process.

Four years ago, when Mitt Romney was making his first run for the presidency, there were 21 simultaneous Republican primaries on Super Tuesday. His weak showing convinced him to drop out of the race just two days later.

There are 10 primaries and 419 delegates up for grabs on this year's Super Tuesday, the biggest single day of the Republican presidential campaign, and there is the prospect that the four candidates could split them.

Neither Romney, who is perceived as a Wall-Street-friendly moderate, nor Santorum, a conservative who aims to appeal more to the working class, is expected to win clearly enough to force the other from the race.

That kind of muddle could just prolong the contest, which has already proven costlier, nastier and more divisive than many party members would have hoped.

The Republicans are hoping for something super this Tuesday, because otherwise they'll be left with a long hard slog.

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