I have a preview of the Ohio primary up at PJM this morning.
Unfortunately for Rick Santorum, even a win in Ohio may not give him a majority of delegates. This is because the former senator failed to gather enough signatures in three congressional districts to qualify for reaping any of the 9 delegates at stake. He also failed to get the required signatures in six other districts. As for the latter, he may qualify to get one or perhaps two delegates in those six districts, but not all three. All told, Santorum might win the state but lose up to 25% of the delegates. Under the rules, Santorum can petition the party to include those delegates in his totals at a later date, but if Romney wins the popular vote, even if Santorum won the congressional district, he might have trouble collecting them.
Santorum’s delegate problems notwithstanding, there is a race to be won in Ohio and to the winner probably goes the perception of victory on Super Tuesday. Ohio is a big state - a microcosm of the country itself. The percentages of race, class, ethnicity, and religion roughly mirror those found in the country at large. It stands to reason that if a candidate can cobble together a winning coalition in Ohio for the GOP primary, he has a good head start on doing the same thing for the general election.
No less than six polls have been published in the last 24 hours, with two showing Santorum slightly ahead, three with Romney leading, and one that shows a tie. All polls show the leader within the margin of error. These polls are essentially unchanged from surveys that were published Friday and Saturday. Might we deduce that Romney’s momentum may have stalled and that the race is truly deadlocked? Unless something very surprising happens, it is likely to be a long night on Tuesday to find out the answer to that question.
In truth, both candidates need Ohio very badly to claim victory on Super Tuesday. As far as the primaries are concerned, Santorum is ahead in Tennessee and Oklahoma and has a shot at winning the North Dakota and Alaska caucuses (Idaho, where caucuses are being held Tuesday night, is 27% Mormon and will very likely fall to Romney). Romney will win his home state of Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia (where Santorum is not on the ballot), and very likely the Idaho caucus. It would seem that a win in Ohio would feed the perception that the candidate who wins Ohio has carried the day and will be the beneficiary of the positive press that would follow. This would obviously benefit Rick Santorum far more than Mitt Romney because of Santorum’s dwindling war chest, which, at the moment, depends instead on the buzz generated by a perceived win on Super Tuesday rather than a campaign organization that can raise millions of dollars in a short period of time.
I think Romney squeaks by in Ohio although it will be very close. He will win the lion’s share of the delegates thanks to Santorum’s poor organization.
So is the race over? For all intents and purposes, yes. Even if Santorum wins in Ohio, Romney is going to increase his lead in actual delegates. He will have anywhere from a 150-250 delegate lead on Santorum by tomorrow morning. Since most of the GOP primaries now award their delegates based on a proportional system, Santorum would have to win decisively in many of the remaining primaries for him to catch Romney and reach the magic number of 1144.
Josh Putnam at FHQ:
FHQ has been saying since our Very Rough Estimate of the delegate counts a couple of weeks ago that Romney is the only candidate who has a chance to get there. But, of course, I have not yet shown my work. No, it isn’t mathematically impossible, but it would take either Gingrich or Santorum over-performing their established level of support in the contests already in the history books to such an extent that it is all but mathematically impossible. Santorum, for instance, has averaged 24.2% of the vote in all the contests. Since (and including) his February 7 sweep, he is averaging 34.7% of the vote. That is an improvement, but it is not nearly enough to get the former Pennsylvania senator within range of the 1144 delegates necessary to win the Republican nomination.
FHQ has modified that original model and put together a spreadsheet that not only better captures the rules in each state, but also allows for a constant level of support across all upcoming contests to be to be plugged in. Let’s begin by assuming that Santorum enters with 19 delegates and project a 50% level of support across all the remaining contests with bound delegates. This 50% would apply to not only the statewide vote but the congressional district votes as well. In other words, this would trigger a winner-take-all allocation of delegates in most states that have the conditional winner-take-all/proportional rules hinging on a candidate receiving a majority of the vote.
This is extremely generous. It assumes that candidate X would win nearly all the delegates in states that were not already directly proportional. Less generously, this does not count, like the previous version of this exercise, caucus states with unbound delegates (see Iowa, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, etc.) nor automatic delegates who have yet to endorse.
Where does that leave Santorum? 1075 delegates.
But hold on. What if we add another layer to this by accounting for the thresholds for receiving delegates in the various states (typically 15% or 20%)? This would have the impact of reallocating delegates of those under the threshold in proportional environments to those candidates over the threshold. That would mean more delegates. If we set the number of candidates over the threshold to its lowest value — 2 candidates in 20% threshold states and 3 in 15% threshold states1 — that maximizes the number of reallocated delegates.
Where does that leave Santorum? Again, this is assuming winner-take-all rules have been triggered in all the conditional states. It assumes that the likely bare minimum of candidates has crossed the thresholds to receive reallocated delegates. This is very generous.
1162 delegates. That’s cutting it awfully close.
One would think that Santorum will stay in the race at least until after the Missouri caucuses on March 24. Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana all hold primaries prior to that date and he may want to test Josh’s best case scenario before calling it quits.
And Gingrich? It’s a vanity run now for the former speaker. If he stays in after Super Tuesday, it will be out of spite for Romney and as an ego stroking exercise. Once the math sinks in, however, the calls for him to step aside will increase from party leaders.
Love him or hate him, Romney appears to be on a clear path to the nomination.