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.
Surely the automatic delegates or the unbound caucus delegates would keep Santorum over 1144. Yeah, they could potentially serve as kingmaker until you remember that we just very unrealistically gave Santorum winner-take-all allocation where is was conditionally possible. We gave him a consistent 50% of the vote -- over 15% better than he has performed during his best stretch. Also, Santorum -- given the polls we have access to for today's races -- is very unlikely to reach that level of support across all of the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses. That means that after today -- a day with over 400 delegates at stake -- Santorum will not be able to get to 1144.
...and neither will Newt Gingrich.
Well just a darn minute there, FHQ. Your cooking the books, right? What if you put Mitt Romney in the same model(s) under the same circumstances? Ah, I'm glad you asked.
- In the first model where Romney would be at 50% support statewide and in each congressional district, the former Massachusetts governor would net 1254 delegates.
- In the second model that accounts for a likely bare minimum of candidates over the threshold, Romney would surpass 1300 delegates at 1341.
The bottom line here is that Romney has enough of a delegate advantage right now and especially coming out of today's contests that it is very unlikely that anyone will catch him, much less catch him and get to 1144. The latter seems particularly far-fetched given the above scenarios. And that is a problem in this race. Well, a problem for Gingrich and Santorum anyway. If all either of them can take to voters is an argument that all they can do is prevent Romney from getting to 1144, then neither has a winning strategy. That sort of strategy has a half life; one that will grow less effective as, in this case, Romney approaches 1144. Complicating this scenario even further for Gingrich and Santorum is the fact that if neither can get to 1144 or even close to it, neither is all that likely to be the candidate to emerge as the nominee at any -- unlikely though it may be -- contested convention.
These contests today may not be decisive in terms of settling the nomination, but they very much represent a mental hurdle in this race. That Santorum and Gingrich cannot get to 1144 without vastly over-performing in the remaining contests (relative to how well they have done in the contests thus far) ushers in a new phase in the race.
But how long will the "keep Romney from 1144 plan" last? With southern contests scattered throughout the rest of March, Gingrich and Santorum will have legitimate chances at wins. However, that means Illinois on March 20 and the bulk of April end up being rather tough terrain. Wins on Romney's turf become imperative to stay alive at that point for Gingrich and Santorum. By that point, though, Romney will still hold the delegate advantage and favorable contests in front of him. That is not a good combination for anyone hoping to catch him in the delegate count.
...or even keep him under 1144.
1 Remember that one candidate is already at the 50% level and it has been rare to see more than two candidates over 20% or 3 over 15% with the top candidate approaching 50%.
2 In states with an odd number of congressional districts, the delegate total was rounded down to the nearest whole district. A five district state would have Romney winning only two districts. This does not apply in states where there is an attempt to allocate congressional district delegates proportionally. In those states, Romney is given the partial total across all congressional districts. Look, if we are going to be generous to Santorum/Gingrich then it is equally as helpful in this exercise to be stingy with Romney. We want to poke holes in his ability to get to 1144. If we poke enough, Romney can be pulled under 1144, but it becomes more and more complicated and less and less realistic.
NOTE: The delegate scenarios above were constructed as part of a request from ABC News.