An obligatory follow-up on last night's crude estimates that Rick Santorum might actually lose ground in the delegate count, despite his pair of wins in the deep South. Due to Mississippi and Alabama's proportional allocation process and Romney's overwhelming victories in Hawaii (by 20 points) and American Samoa (a sweep of all 9 delegates -- ludicrously representing a grand total of 70 voters), that's exactly what happened. The Romney camp has distributed a memo detailing last night's delegate fallout and the updated state of play:
While Rick Santorum is taking a victory lap after Alabama and Mississippi, the fact remains that nothing has changed or advanced his chances of getting the Republican nomination. Tuesday’s results actually increased Governor Romney’s delegate lead, while his opponents only moved closer to their date of mathematical elimination. Governor Romney now leads in delegates over Senator Santorum by a two-to-one margin – with at least 511 delegates to Senator Santorum’s 256 delegates. Speaker Gingrich has 138 delegates. The math is simple. Governor Romney gained at least 41 delegates with his victories in Hawaii and American Samoa, and strong percentages of the vote in Mississippi and Alabama. Last night’s results give him 50% of all the delegates awarded to date and 45% of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination. He has twice the number of delegates as Senator Santorum and has received over one million votes more than Santorum in the GOP primary contests to date.
Further, despite Senator Santorum’s wins last night, Governor Romney has received more votes in Southern contests than Senator Santorum, even without counting Virginia, where Santorum’s team failed to qualify for the ballot. Governor Romney has also won more delegates in the South to date than either Senator Santorum or Speaker Gingrich. Santorum and Gingrich now trail Governor Romney by margins they cannot mathematically make up. Senator Santorum is 255 delegates behind Governor Romney and Speaker Gingrich is 373 delegates behind. In order to win, both Santorum and Gingrich need to start netting an impossible number of delegates to overtake Governor Romney. In the contests since Super Tuesday, Governor Romney won at least 80 delegates, Senator Santorum won 70 and Speaker Gingrich won 24; a net of –10 for Santorum and –56 for Speaker Gingrich...Currently, of all the remaining delegates, Senator Santorum must win 69% and Speaker Gingrich must win 78% to reach the 1,144 delegates necessary to win. Their track records demonstrate why this is impossible-- so far, Senator Santorum has won only 26% of the delegates awarded and Speaker Gingrich has won only 14%. In addition, with only four upcoming contests (Utah, New Jersey, DC, and Delaware) truly “winner take all,” there are limited opportunities to post large delegate gains.
It's this sort of math that led me to conclude that Romney solidified his position as prohibitive front-runner on Super Tuesday. Election stats guru Nate Silver is billing next week's Illinois primary as a near "must win" for Santorum -- a tall order because (a) Illinois Republicans tend to gravitate toward moderates and (b) Santorum has a major delegate qualification problem (like he's faced in AL, OH, TN, VA) in the Land of Lincoln. Romney currently holds a modest lead in Illinois, although those polls were taken before his victories down South, and Team Romney is going up on air this week. Meanwhile, the Santorum campaign is looking to capitalize on their wins, telling supporters that Tuesday's developments have brought about a "brand new ballgame:"
I'm here to tell you that last night conservatives spoke out and turned the campaign upside down. We finally have the one on one race with Mitt Romney that we have wanted for months. It's a brand new ballgame. Our victories last night proved that conservatives are not going to be told what to do by the media or the moderate establishment. Believer [sic] it or not, 2 out of every 3 ads that were run in these states were spent on Mitt Romney's behalf, and mostly against us. Romney had the entire moderate establishment behind him. The media said that his victory was inevitable.
But when the votes were counted, even with being outspent big time and all the power of the establishment working for Romney, the people of Mississippi and Alabama stood with the guy from Pennsylvania. They stood with the grandson of a coal miner, the candidate who understands the importance of faith and family – the candidate who understands the centrality of conservatism and freedom in our lives. Conservatives have the best opportunity they’ve had yet to nominate a conservative. Now is the time for conservatives to pull together...We've got all the momentum in this race. We are surging now. But we still have a lot of work to do. Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois and Puerto Rico are up next and we have to put ads on the air to combat Governor Romney's attacks.
It's a battle of narratives. Team Romney says they've got arithmetic, rules and dynamics on their side. Team Santorum says they're charging forward with Big Mo. Blogger Baseball Crank explains that while both are correct, Romney's advantages and the upcoming calendar will likely seal Santorum's fate:
Before opponents of Mitt Romney get too excited here, it's important to remember that three of the past week's four contests were on very unfavorable turf for Romney: the Kansas caucus came in a state where the GOP has a very strong pro-life conservative contingent (Sam Brownback is the governor, after all), and the primaries in Deep South states Alabama and Mississippi are tough sells for a Massachusetts moderate (although the Mississippi GOP is very establishment-minded; there are few red states in which the Tea Party has less influence). The next five weeks feature a battery of states, some of them quite rich in delegates and a number of them winner-take-all, where Republicans are more accustomed to nominating guys like Romney - Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Maryland, Connecticut.
I'd imagine Romney might, um, lose Pennsylvania, but the larger point is well-taken. Click through to see BC's handy chart tha tracks the popular vote count through last night. For what it's worth, third-place Newt Gingrich is much closer to second-place Rick Santorum (~311,000 vote gap) than Santorum is to first-place Mitt Romney (~1.1 million vote gap). All that being said, Romney has struggled mightily to wrap this thing up; last night's results will be another shot in Santorum's arm, and a thorn in Mitt's side. We have a frontrunner who mathematically cannot lose absent a disastrous contested convention, but who also cannot seem to break through and seal his win. We have two challengers who cannot win beyond the outside shot of a disastrous contested convention, but who resonate far better with the party's base, giving them ample reasons to keep on fighting. Worst primary ever.
UPDATE - I'm getting complaints from Romney opponents that this post is "in the tank" for him, etc. Look, if anything, the math is "in the tank" for Romney. Think of it this way: Even if...
(1) Newt Gingrich dropped out tomorrow and threw his full support behind Rick Santorum, and...
(2) Every single Newt supporter faithfully jumped over to Team Santorum, and...
(3) Rick Santorum won two-thirds of all remaining delegates, including in places like Rhode Island, California, and Utah...
He still wouldn't have enough to capture the nomination. This is why I commented last night that it was bizarre and fantastical for Santorum to claim that he'll wrap up the nomination "before the convention." A contested convention looks like it's his only chance to become the nominee, barring some catastrophic event.