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Mar 07 2012

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The View After Super Tuesday *

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A Slog Ahead - With Certainty

Congratulations today go out to Mitt Romney.

Under pressure in a four-man race with contests in ten states, the former Massachusetts governor won both were he was expected to, and where he had to, winning six of the ten contests and 200 delegates; almost three times the number of his nearest competitor, Rick Santorum (79 delegates).

Despite the overall impressive performance by Romney, however, all the candidates in the race got something they needed out Super Tuesday.

Newt Gingrich won Georgia by a very impressive margin, breathing life – again – into a candidacy that has now been given up for dead three times.

Rick Santorum put solid wins on the board, with victories in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota.  Given proportional representation, he won delegates in three other states, and came within one point of beating Mitt Romney in Ohio; the bellwether state for the GOP in every general election for a century.

And though Ron Paul did not win any state outright, he did win a small cohort of delegates, and received bragging rights for getting 41% of the vote in Virginia (due to a combination of ballot access issues and protest votes) though no delegates in the Old Dominion.

Since everyone got something yesterday, the big news from Super Tuesday is that the results won’t winnow the field. Ten contests in every region of the country failed to deliver a decisive result that would provide clarity and purpose to the Republican race. All four candidates have pledged to shoulder on.

Which raises the the new (if apparent) reality that the GOP race has become a true numbers game.

In a four man field with proportional representation for most of the contests through the end of March, and then a mix of winner-take-all (WTA) and proportional representation through the end of the primary season in June, winning is important, but every delegate in every contest becomes vital.

To date, Mitt Romney has been the chief beneficiary of a multi-candidate field with proportional representation. As of today, according to CNN, Romney has 415 delegates; Santorum, 176, Gingrich 105 and Paul with 47.

Right now, Romney leads because Santorum and Gingrich are dividing the most conservative vote, providing Romney with plurality victories. To see how things could be different, consider, hypothetically, that there was only a single conservative alternative to Romney (combining Gingrich and Santorum support, but leaving Paul support as it is) and a winner-take-all format for all the contests thus far.

 Romney would be losing to that conservative alternative 407-303.

But we are today where we are.

What is the road forward?

It now seems certain that, given certain assumptions, Romney’s lead is irreversible, though it remains unclear today when he can cross the magic 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination.

Between now and June 26th, there are 415 delegates in WTA states, and 812 delegates at stake in proportional representation contests.

Looking at the terrain, Romney would appear to be favored in most if not all of the WTA contests, which include: Puerto Rico, Maryland, Washington, DC, Wisconsin, Delaware, Indiana, New Jersey, Utah, and the “Big Kahuna”, California, which total 415 delegates.

For the sake of argument, if Romney were to win all theses sates, this would bring Romney’s delegate total to 830, meaning that Romney would notionally have to collect 314 of the 812 delegates in the remaining proportional representation races to win the nomination – or 39%.

Of the proportional races Romney would be expected to lead in contests in Hawaii, Illinois, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Oregon, New Mexico, South Dakota, Montana and the Big Kahuna of the proportional races, New York. Combined, those states provide 300 delegates.

But there is a wrinkle in the state delegate allocation laws here.

As the GOP has moved from WTA to proportional representation, some states have applied a hybrid – proportional representation unless there is an outright majority, in which case that winning candidate gets all the delegates. New York (92), Connecticut (25) and Illinois (54) have such a system, and Romney could conceivably get to 50% in these states, even with the three other candidates arrayed against him.

If we carry the hypothetical forward based on these rules and odds, Romney would take another 171 delegates, bringing his total to 1,001, only 143 delegates short of the nomination.

Again, since this group of states are Romney-friendly, we can conservatively award him 30% of the remaining delegates from this cohort, (39 delegates) bringing the total to 1,040 (It is likely that Romney would do better than this).

That would mean that Romney would have to win 104 delegates of the remaining 512 delegates outstanding, or 20%.

But here the sledding gets rougher by terrain for Romney. The contests will be in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Nebraska, and the Big Kahuna of the South, Texas with 152 delegates.

In these states, the key is a threshold vote to qualify for delegates. North Carolina requires 10% of the vote to qualify. Kentucky and Mississippi require 15%.  Texas requires 20% and Louisiana 25%. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the immediate date of the primaries, this might turn into an impediment for Romney, particularly is delegate rich Texas.

Given that Gingrich and Santorum have done well in the south, for our example, lets assume that Romney is closed out of Texas and Louisiana, but clears the threshold for the rest, with 20% of the vote. That adds 68 delegates to Romney, bringing him to a total of 1,108, or 36 short of the nomination.

Now what?

Brokered convention?

No.

The GOP has its own version of the famed, Democratic Super Delegates who are assigned by the Republican National Committee (RNC) and are uncommitted.  There are 117 of these delegates. It would be almost certain that in a contest this close, with Romney inches away from the nomination, but with his opposition holding a sizable block of delegates but not enough to win, that the RNC would throw in with Romney and secure the nomination for him, with 81 delegates to spare.

No doubting that this example presumes a awful lot. Indeed Romney could do better than the conservative estimates outlined for the proportional states. It also pre-supposes that Rick Santorum will dominate Pennsylvania – no guarantee there.  While PA has cultural and political similarities to states where Santorum has done well – Michigan and Ohio – it is also the home of Santorum’s double digit Senate loss in 2006.

As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.” If Santorum were do miss expectations in PA, or to lose, it would represent a “Shazam” moment for the campaign and likely knock him out.

What is critical is the overall analysis however, is that no other candidate can make a map that gets them to 1,144 credibly.

Neither Santorum or Gingrich are going to win New York, California, New Jersey or Illinois.  Texas is big, and it will add to delegate totals, but it is not enough to overcome the lead and momentum that Romney has at his back.

So what does it all mean?

The primaries will go on.

Romney hand-wringing will erupt again next week when Romney fails to come out on top in Alabama, Mississippi, or doesn’t do well in Kansas.  But then he will hit his stride with a series of WTA states that will change the narrative and the delegate count.

Inevitability will again be the watchword.

Indeed, do Santorum and Gingrich really have a narrative to keep them in the race – and even more crucially, can they continue to raise any money –  if Romney wins in eight of the 11 contests between April 3rd and May 15th?

Can they wait for May 29th when Texas’ results will effectively be canceled out by California on the same day?

We’ll see.

So the process will be longer than anyone expected early on.

If everyone stays in, and Romney under performs, it could go all the way to June, with horse-trading and uncertainty leading into the summer.  A political junkie’s dream.

But at the end of the day, the RNC – what is left of the maligned Establishment – may actually prove decisive.

RNC support or not, Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee.

Thinking ahead, off the campaign trail, someone should be pondering through how to change the rules for 2016. The year’s system is mess and failure, not because it didn’t provide a nominee early, but because states using their authority have made each state so unique that its hard to understand the rules in any coherent fashion.  More discipline means more accountability and predictability.

And while we are at it, someone should be thinking through how we take the toxic brew of resentments that will enter Tampa, and turn it into a laser aimed at the Democrats.

That chapter has yet to be concieved and executed.

* the delegate numbers used here are from CNN and RNC sources.  However, different delegate totals are being reported in different media. That is an indication of the rampant uncertainty of RNC procedures and the different interpretations of same.

 

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