Guy Benson

Late last week, we discussed a report from National Review's Bob Costa, whose sources within the Gingrich campaign say the former Speaker is intent on battling to the Republican National Convention in late August.  Their broad strategy is to run a no-frills campaign, block Mitt Romney from securing the requisite 1,144 delegates to marshall a nominating majority, then deliver a "powerful speech" in Tampa.  It's an extreme longshot, but it's still a shot.  Over the weekend, however, the candidate himself appeared to significantly lower Romney's victory threshold, suggesting that the race would essentially end if the former governor accumulates at least 1,000 delegates:
 

Contrary to what he’s been saying for weeks, Gingrich suggested he would bow out of the Republican delegate hunt if Romney is close to the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination by the GOP convention this summer. “Well it depends, if we are successful and he doesn’t have an absolute – if he doesn’t have 1,000 delegates, I mean you know, if he’s close, attrition will get him the last 100,” Gingrich said of Romney, when Forman asked if would go to the convention. “But if he’s under 1,000 delegates, I don’t think he’s going to get the nomination.”


After his Puerto Rican romp, Romney's delegate total has jumped to 521 (compared to 253 for Santorum, 136 for Gingrich and 50 for Paul) heading into tomorrow's Illinois primary.  Sixty-nine total delegates are at stake in the Land of Lincoln, where a new PPP poll suggests Romney may be headed for a commanding victory:
 

Mitt Romney is headed for a blowout victory in Illinois on Tuesday. He leads with 45% to 30% for Rick Santorum, 12% for Newt Gingrich, and 10% for Ron Paul. Romney's particularly strong among voters who live in suburban areas (50-29) and with those who live in urban areas (46-23). But he's even running slightly ahead of Santorum, 38-36, with folks who identify as living in rural parts and that strength with a group of voters he hasn't tended to do that well with is why he's looking at such a lopsided margin of victory.


Grain of salt: PPP's double-digit predicted margin is much wider than other surveys, which generally estimate Romney's Illinois lead in the mid-to-high single digits.  It's also worth pointing out that Rick Santorum has regularly out-performed polls throughout the cycle.  Delegate positioning has been an absolute mess in Illinois, where the Romney and Santorum camps were forced to hammer out a private agreement to quash dueling challenges, both of which promised to visit embarrassment upon the entire party:
 

Mitt Romney’s vaunted organization nearly failed him in Illinois, where he only remained eligible for delegates on the ballot after a negotiated truce between his campaign and Rick Santorum’s people. The problems stem from the campaign relying on Illinois state Treasurer Dan Rutherford. He struggled to acquire enough signatures to qualify for Romney’s delegates and then had the statement of candidacy notarized out of state, which the Santorum campaign challenged despite having its own statement of candidacy notarized in Iowa.

Had Santorum’s campaign been successful with its challenge to Romney, the error could have led to disqualifying Romney from winning any of the state’s delegates. The petition standoff took place in early January, well before Santorum had risen to be Romney’s chief rival for the GOP nomination. It began when Romney’s campaign challenged the Santorum petitions in 10 of the 14 congressional districts in which the former Pennsylvania senator submitted delegate slates. Santorum did not qualify at all in four of 18 Illinois congressional districts.


Of the 54 delegates that will be allocated based on tomorrow's results (out of 69 total), Santorum is ineligible to win ten of them.  For a sense of how deeply dysfunctional the ballot qualification process was in the state, read the full story.  Two illustrative quotes:
 

(1) The Romney high command...“was flabbergasted that an Illinois statewide official had no organization.”  (2) “In Illinois, what is traditional is a don’t ask-don’t tell policy,” Zahm said. “You don’t look at my petitions and I won’t look at yours.”


What a sorry state of affairs.  As April's slate of delegate-rich contests draws near, Ann Romney is urging Republicans to "coalesce" around her husband.  Even as the Romney camp talks about delivering a "knockout punch" in Illinois tomorrow, some Illinois Republicans say the former governor fails to offer the "spark" GOP partisans are looking for, hence the relatively tight race.  As for Team Romney's desired Chicagoland TKO blow, don't count on it: A National Journal analysis predicts the nomination brouhaha could spill into June.  Wonderful.  I'll leave you with the latest ad from the Romney camp, entitled -- cough -- "man of principles," which features an extra special surrogate:
 


I wrote a cover story for Townhall Magazine's January issue exploring Romney's journey from "true conservative" savior (2008) to dreaded RINO squish (2012).  As Santorum would tell you today, it's all about context and alternatives -- still, the soundbyte in that spot packs a punch.


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography