RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now, on to Super Tuesday. In two days, 10 states will cast votes in the GOP presidential nominating contest. It will be the largest single day of voting yet in the Republican race.
And Mara Liasson joins us with analysis. She is NPR's national political correspondent.
OK, Mara. Do you think Romney's win in Washington state may foreshadow what may come on Super Tuesday? I mean 10 presidential contests happening that day.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: That's right. There are 437 delegates at stake. We probably will get a mixed result. Georgia, for instance, is a must-win for Newt Gingrich. Tennessee and Oklahoma are good states for Rick Santorum. Massachusetts, Virginia, Vermont, and Idaho are good states for Romney. But the biggest prize of all on Tuesday is Ohio. It's also the biggest test for Romney. Ohio is a lot like Michigan, only without the home state advantages for Romney.
Among GOP voters in Ohio, there are more evangelicals, more white working-class voters - fewer with college degrees, more rural. That all looks like a Santorum-friendly state. But once again, organization, resources, Romney has those in spades, way over Santorum. He's already outspending him 6-to-1 on the air. Polls show that currently Santorum is up in Ohio, about 5 points, but that is probably a surmountable lead for Romney.
MARTIN: So in light of all of that, Mara, when you do the math and look at the electoral map, is there any way that someone besides Romney can take the nomination?
LIASSON: Well, I guess it's mathematically possible but it's hard to see how. You need 1,144 delegates to get the nomination. So far, Romney only has 166. You can see how back-loaded this whole process is. But I do think Michigan was the last good chance to derail Romney.
And he is on a slow and, maybe in the eyes of some Republicans, painful march to the nomination. But at this point, I think that Santorum would really have to do very, very well on Tuesday to knock Romney off his perch.
MARTIN: You say this has been painful for some. I mean the primary race has gone on much longer than many thought it would. How is the Republican establishment feeling about this whole protracted race?
LIASSON: Well, they're nervous and they're worried. Santorum supporters are worried that instead of becoming the kind of blue-collar Republican reformer that he could've been, he's veered off into social issues. Romney supporters are worried about the cost that he is incurring for his wins. Every time he wins his negatives go up, especially among independents. So they worry that he's getting weaker for the general election, as opposed to stronger as the primaries go on.
MARTIN: Late yesterday, Mara, Rush Limbaugh apologized to the Georgetown law student that he had called a, quote, "slut," on his radio program, after she testified before Congress that the cost for her birth control should be covered by her university's health care plan.
What's the political value of that?
LIASSON: Well, this is really an amazing episode and it shows you how far the election debate has veered away from the economy and onto social issues. But Rush Limbaugh called her, by the way, a prostitute as well as a slut. And he did issue a statement where he said at the end of it that his choice of words was not the best, and he sincerely apologizes. It was also after several of Limbaugh's advertisers had either dropped out of his show or threatened to.
This is a debate where Democrats feel they are winning. They think if this debate is framed as about women's access to contraception, they have the upper hand. They think that Republicans are painting themselves into a corner and looking like they are engaged in another war on women. Republicans had hoped this debate was going to be about religious liberty.
But this really is extraordinary. Even John Boehner had to distance himself from Limbaugh's comments. Usually it's Republicans apologizing to Rush for something they said, not Rush Limbaugh apologizing to the public.
MARTIN: Mara Liasson is NPR's national political correspondent. Mara, thanks so much.
LIASSON: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.