Delegate counts pose problems for Republicans

Romney has a long way to go. At least he has a way. 	Photo: Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY, March 15, 2012—Math is a tough thing to cheat.

In the Republican presidential primary, the math is stacked up high against Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

Delegates will choose the GOP presidential nominee in June. The magic number, as anyone who has listened to two minutes of campaign coverage knows, is 1144, a majority of the nearly 3000 delegates who will crowd the convention floor in Tampa this summer.

Mitt Romney’s delegate lead is substantial. This past Tuesday, which his opponents declared to be a very bad night for the frontrunner, he actually increased his delegate advantage. A few more bad nights like that and it will be sewn up tight.

But Romney still has a math problem of his own.

If all three proceed as if they have money to do so, and if the dynamic among them remains relatively constant, Santorum could collect around 500 more delegates to add to the 236 he sits on now (according to Real Clear Politics).

Gingrich, who hung his hopes on victories in Alabama and Mississippi, will gather another 150. Both of these assumes the rosiest outcomes for Gingrich and Santorum, and takes into account the organizational shortcomings of both. Santorum, for instance, did not make the ballot in the District of Columbia and failed to qualify a full slate of delegates in Illinois and Indiana.

Under the scenario thus described, Romney would accumulate about 650 additional delegates, but landing a few short of the majority needed to secure the nomination.

That’s a problem.

But it’s less of a problem than his opponents have. Back to the math: Santorum would need to win 70% of the remaining delegates to secure the nomination. Without good showings from the Northeast, Illinois, Indiana, Oregon, and Utah, he can’t get to 1144.

In short, the former senator from Pennsylvania would have to hope that Romney doesn’t compete in any state that Santorum might win, so that the former gets all of the delegates from those states. That just won’t happen.

Newt, is completely out of the race—he admitted as much after finishing second in the two southern states this week. His main selling point now is that stopping Romney from getting nominated is somehow good for the party. That’s probably not the best way to accumulate more votes from a very diverse set of Republican primary voters who say, quite consistently across demographics and geographies, that Romney gives them the best chance to defeat President Obama.

Romney, for his part, can’t breezily claim the requisite number of delegates before the convention. He has to win Illinois, Wisconsin, and California, and play well in other states. Of course he is poised to do just that, and he has the money to fight harder than his rivals.

Though Romney’s math isn’t a no-brainer, it’s not too difficult, either. The forecast that has Santorum taking the lion’s share in the Midwest and remaining southern states build in huge disadvantages for Romney. But the frontrunner isn’t going to just step aside and let Santorum and Gingrich waltz away with Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Nebraska. If the southern primaries in Alabama and Mississippi suggest anything, it’s that Romney plays a lot better in his weakest states than either Santorum or Gingrich play in theirs. Even if Santorum has big wins, Romney will keep it close in the delegate count.

Of course, this is all contingent on primary voters not minding being manipulated by the press, who have played losing Republican candidates against their own party, to the benefit of a president they want to see re-elected.

More likely than not, GOP voters will coalesce around Romney, since a Santorum or Gingrich nomination is all but mathematically impossible.

They might not have math on their mind when they vote, but elections always come down to numbers. Those numbers point only to Mitt Romney in the end. 


Learn more about the author at 

Rich is a teacher and a soldier. In addition to writing the “Rich Like Me” political column at the Washington Times Communities, he is the author of Nine Weeks: A Teacher’s Education in Army Basic TrainingTunnel Club; and Not Another Boring Textbook: A High School Students’ Guide to their Inner Conservative. 


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Rich Stowell

Rich Stowell has written about politics and travel for the Washington Times Communities since 2011. He is a soldier in the Utah National Guard and a fellow at the Center for Communication and Community at the University of Utah. Rich is the author of "Nine Weeks: A Teacher's Education in Army Basic Training"and continues to blog about military issues at “My Public Affairs.”

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