As I was going through articles on Super Tuesday yesterday, I couldn’t believe me eyes. Much of the punditry was spinning Mitt’s smashing victory — winning twice as many contests as Santorum and slaughtering his rival in the total delegates won — as, if not a loss, then something less than what it was.
I wrote about this for PJ Media:
Let us put this nonsense to bed once and for all: Mitt Romney was a huge winner on Super Tuesday. By any objective measurement — total votes, delegates won, margin of victory, and the fact that in the four contests he didn’t win he finished second (even beating Santorum in Georgia) — Romney should be credited with almost putting the nomination out of reach. Only a miracle — “an act of God” says the Romney camp — could deny him the Republican nomination at this point. That’s only a slight overstatement.
As Josh Putnam pointed out before the Super Tuesday delegate count was even known, there is no practical or realistic path to 1144 — the number of delegates needed for the nomination — for either Santorum or Gingrich. Santorum would have to start beating the pants off Romney to gain the lion’s share of delegates in states that award them proportionally, and would also have to cross thresholds of more than 50% of the vote in some states that have the winner-take-all rules. And all Romney has to do is finish a fairly close second in states he doesn’t win to keep piling up the delegates.
RealClearPolitics gives Romney 404 delegates to Santorum’s 161. The problem with playing catch-up is best illustrated by what happened in Oklahoma. Santorum won the state by 5 points over Romney, but only picked up one delegate on him — 14-13. With Romney currently enjoying a 250-delegate lead, the delegate math starts to weigh heavily on Santorum’s campaign.
No, it is not impossible for Santorum to win. But it is now extremely unlikely — largely as a result of what transpired on Super Tuesday. In order for Santorum to win, he would have to garner 65% of the remaining delegates at stake. Gingrich would need 70%. Romney needs just 48%. So far, Santorum has won 22% of the delegates while Romney has grabbed 52%. Even if Gingrich were to drop out, the prospect of Santorum running up those totals is a very long shot at best.
It is false to assume that every single Gingrich supporter would transfer their allegiance to Santorum if the former speaker were to drop out. That makes the argument that splitting the conservative vote is the only thing keeping Santorum from winning an inaccurate one. In fact, Santorum is already dominating the conservative vote with Gingrich finishing a distant second. Only in Georgia did Newt beat Rick among conservatives. Elsewhere, it was Santorum: 36-12 in Vermont; 50-18 in Ohio; 53-22 in Tennessee; and 32-9 in Oklahoma.
No doubt a race without Gingrich would give Santorum a nice little bump in some northern states. And he would continue to dominate Romney in many Deep South states. But the rules, and the math, still favor Romney — even with a Gingrich withdrawal.
Reading my mind, Nate Silver helpfully did some figuring and came up with some numbers to show the effect of Gingrich dropping out of the race:
So suppose that you took those estimates from the Public Policy Polling surveys — Mr. Santorum gets 57 percent of Mr. Gingrich’s voters, Mr. Romney 27 percent, and Mr. Paul 16 percent — and redistributed Mr. Gingrich’s votes accordingly in the states that have already voted. Then you recalculated the delegate distribution based on the revised vote totals.
Calculating the delegate totals is more challenging. One issue is states like Iowa, in which the results reported by the news media are from a presidential-preference straw poll that is not directly tied to delegate selection. In these cases, I assumed that delegates were proportional to the straw poll results, even though they are picked though a separate process. Another is states that allocate some of their delegates by Congressional district. I was able to find district-by-district results for Georgia, Michigan, South Carolina and Ohio and make exact calculations for those states, but had to make some best guesses in Oklahoma and Tennessee.
With those qualifications in mind, this general result should hold: Mr. Romney would still be significantly ahead in the delegate count. I have him with 404 delegates versus 264 for Mr. Santorum and 71 for Mr. Paul.
Mr. Romney’s delegate total, in fact, is very slightly higher than it would have been before the redistribution of the vote. There are cases when the shift in votes costs him delegates, such as in winner-take-all districts, or when one of his opponents gains more votes and crosses a threshold that enables him to receive proportional delegates. But Mr. Romney is being given some votes under these assumptions — if not as many as Mr. Santorum — and that helps him in cases where the delegate allocation is more proportional. These factors came close to balancing out, but Mr. Romney gained about 10 delegates on net.
It would undoubtedly still help Mr. Santorum if Mr. Gingrich dropped out — especially if Mr. Gingrich endorsed Mr. Santorum and asked his delegates to vote for him. In fact, the combined total of Santorum and Gingrich delegates right now is quite similar to the number that we calculate Mr. Santorum would have won without Mr. Gingrich in the race.
But that would be just the first step for Mr. Santorum — at best, a necessary but not sufficient condition for a comeback. He’ll need to find some further means by which he can eat into Mr. Romney’s coalition, and he’ll need to do so in a hurry since 21 states have already voted.
The question isn’t what the race would have been without Gingrich in it. The question is what might the race look like going forward without him. In that, Santorum gets closer, but still needs 65% of the remaining delegates to get to 1144. And, barring a total collapse, Romney will win too many states for that to happen.
It would seem that Romney won’t get any respect from the media until he actually wins the nomination. Until then, we’ll continue to get nonsense like this from the pundits.