It wasn't a bad March for Rick Santorum's presidential campaign, all things considered. Out-gunned and out-manned, the former Senator's campaign won seven states, compared to Mitt Romney's ten and Newt Gingrich's one. Even though Santorum finished a distant second in the month's delegate count, his strong performances in the South and Midwest were nothing to sneeze at. As April approaches, media sources have placed Mitt Romney's delegate lead at more than double Santorum's tally -- and the Romney campaign says their closest competitor would have to capture more than 70 percent of all remaining delegates to win. Santorum says this is fuzzy math:
Rick Santorum claimed Sunday that his nomination chances are not nearly as dim as they look, as he tried to rally support coming off his big Louisiana win the night before and downplay front-runner Mitt Romney's seemingly unshakable 2-to-1 advantage in the delegate count. The former Pennsylvania senator effectively claimed that the delegate tally is inaccurate. "There's a lot of bad math there that doesn't reflect the reality of what's going on on the ground. And so I think we're in much, much better shape than what the numbers that are out there suggest," Santorum said in an interview.
If there’s “bad math” floating around, it has certainly reached epidemic proportions. CNN, Fox News, the Associated Press, and Townhall all show the former Massachusetts governor ahead by a wide margin:
Despite Santorum's Louisiana win, the Associated Press delegate tally shows Romney with 568 and Santorum with 272 delegates. Newt Gingrich has 135, and Ron Paul has 50 -- it takes 1,144 to seize the nomination. While Santorum could feasibly prevent Romney from reaching the 1,144 threshold before the Tampa convention, he would need to overcome monumental odds to actually overtake Romney and reach that threshold himself.
Click through to read Santorum's explanation of why the gap is smaller than the press is reporting, and draw your own conclusions. I'm dubious. In any case, another problem for Santorum is the primary schedule. When the calendar flips to April, Santorum's campaign faces a gauntlet of contests that appear to favor front-runner Mitt Romney:
April 3 - Maryland, Wisconsin, and Washington, DC: In a one-on-one matchup with Ron Paul, Romney won Virginia by a wide margin last month. Marylanders are generally more liberal and Northeastern in disposition than their Potomac brethren, pointing to a likely Romney win. Although Santorum performed well in neighboring Minnesota and Iowa, Wisconsin is looking like a tougher climb. A new Rasmussen poll puts Romney in front by a baker's dozen. In DC, Rick Santorum is not on the ballot.
April 24 - Connecticut, Delaware New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island: Northeastern states all, including two in New England -- a region Romney has swept thus far. Despite Christine O'Donnell's surprise primary win two years ago, Delaware is another state ripe for Romney's picking; the same applies to delegate-rich New York, where Romney holds a double-digit lead. Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania appears to be his best (only?) hope for an April victory:
If Santorum fails to win Pennsylvania’s April 24 primary – and there are signs he’s vulnerable here despite his longstanding ties to the state – it could puncture any hope he has of capturing his party’s presidential nomination. A primary race that had threatened to last until the summer could end more suddenly if front-runner Romney manages a Pennsylvania upset. “If Santorum loses Pennsylvania, it’s over,” said Lowman Henry, who hosted the annual gathering of Pennsylvania conservatives this past weekend at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, where Santorum spoke Saturday. “He might as well pull out the next day.”
Quinnipiac's latest shows Santorum up big in the Keystone State. If he can weather a month's worth of crooked scoreboard numbers -- complete with bruising delegate hits, and inevitable calls to stand down -- Santorum's April showers could lead to some May flowers. The slate becomes more forgiving then, as several states in the South and heartland will cast their ballots. Beyond May, however, Santorum is in for a punishing June (California, New Jersey, Utah), which is when this Washington Post analysis suggests Romney is likely to clinch the nomination. For his part, Newt Gingrich has reiterated his stance that he'll stay in the race until one of his rivals attains the magic 1,144 number (or at least close to it), and Ron Paul has given no indication that he's prepared to go anywhere. In other words, we'll continue this beleagured march, despite the final outcome being virtually assured. And if this slow bleed scenario gives the Republican Party heartburn, they can thank themselves.