Rom­ney’s del­e­gate gain still loss of ‘cush­ion’

Makes it harder to wrap up race be­fore con­ven­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

The cur­rent del­e­gate count in the GOP pres­i­den­tial race, fol­low­ing Tues­day's re­sults in Alabama, Mis­sis­sippi, Hawaii and Amer­i­can Samoa:

Mitt Rom­ney ex­tended his lead in del­e­gates in the Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion fight this week, but his hopes of avoid­ing a con­tested con­ven­tion dimmed slightly af­ter third­place fin­ishes in Tues­day night’s two big­gest con­tests.

While the for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor won the most del­e­gates over­all in Alabama, Mis­sis­sippi, Hawaii and Amer­i­can Samoa, his three op­po­nents — Rick San­to­rum, Newt Gin­grich and Rep. Ron Paul — com­bined to win nearly 60 per­cent of the del­e­gates awarded on Tues­day. Ev­ery night that Mr. Rom­ney wins less than an out­right ma­jor­ity makes it tougher for him to cap­ture the magic num­ber of del­e­gates needed to clinch the nom­i­na­tion be­fore the Au­gust con­ven­tion in Tampa, Fla.

“With a hand­ful more del­e­gates off the ta­ble, the math got ever so slightly more dif­fi­cult for Rom­ney and even more im­pos­si­ble for San­to­rum,” said Josh Put­nam, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at David­son Col­lege in North Carolina who runs Front­load­ing HQ , a blog about the pri­mary race. “San­to­rum went from im­pos­si­ble to still im­pos­si­ble, and Rom­ney lost a lit­tle bit of cush­ion af­ter last night.”

Mr. San­to­rum scored the big­gest head­lines out of the four con­tests on Tues­day by win­ning the pop­u­lar vote in the two pri­maries in the Deep South. But Mr. Rom­ney still walked away with more del­e­gates af­ter he won all of the del­e­gates in Amer­i­can Samoa’s cau­cuses and nearly half the del­e­gates in Hawaii’s cau­cuses, while he es­sen­tially split the Alabama and Mis­sis­sippi pri­maries with Mr. Gin­grich and Mr. San­to­rum.

Mr. Rom­ney’s del­e­gate count climbed to 495 in the lat­est As­so­ci­ated Press tally, putting him well ahead of Mr. San­to­rum, 252, Mr. Gin­grich, 131, and Mr. Paul, 48.

The up­dated leader board un­der­scored the dif­fi­cult time any of Mr. Rom­ney’s ri­vals will have try­ing to catch up to him or col­lect the 1,144 del­e­gates needed to wrap up the nom­i­na­tion.

“The del­e­gate math still fa­vors Rom­ney, but that is to­day,” said Keith Ap­pell, a GOP strate­gist. “If San­to­rum gets on a roll and re­ally picks up mo­men­tum, he could change the en­tire per­cep­tion of the race — at which point we will find out whether Rom­ney’s sup­port is strong and in­tense or is frag­ile and fickle.”

Still, bar­ring a ma­jor shift in mo­men­tum, the only re­al­is­tic hope for the other can­di­dates is to com­bine for more than 50 per­cent of the del­e­gates, which would block Mr. Rom­ney from win­ning the nom­i­na­tion on the first bal­lot in Tampa. The can­di­dates then would fight it out on the floor of the na­tional con­ven­tion.

“Keep­ing Rom­ney un­der 1,144 is the only play that San­to­rum and/or Gin­grich have left,” Mr. Put­nam said.

Mr. Gin­grich de­liv­ered that same ar­gu­ment as the re­sults trick­led in Tues­day, telling ABC News that one of the rea­sons he plans on stick­ing in the race is to stop Mr. Rom­ney from win­ning the del­e­gates needed to be­come the party’s pres­i­den­tial stan­dard-bearer.

“We’re ac­tu­ally help­ing be­cause be­tween us San­to­rum and I are stop­ping Rom­ney,” Mr. Gin­grich said, not­ing later in his elec­tion-night speech that “in both [South­ern] states the con­ser­va­tive can­di­dates got nearly 70 per­cent of the vote.”

Exit polls showed that a ma­jor­ity of those who iden­ti­fied them­selves as “very con­ser­va­tive,” strong sup­port­ers of the tea-party move­ment and evan­gel­i­cal/ born-again Chris­tians cast their vote for some­one other than Mr. Rom­ney — con­tin­u­ing a month­s­long trend where Mr. Rom­ney has had trou­ble woo­ing deeply con­ser­va­tive vot­ers in the Deep South and Mid­west.

Mr. Rom­ney ad­dressed those con­cerns in a Fox in­ter­view on Wed­nes­day, ar­gu­ing that those vot­ers will move in his di­rec­tion when he wins the nom­i­na­tion.

“Some who are very con­ser­va­tive may not be yet in my camp, but they will be when I be­come the nom­i­nee when I face Barack Obama,” he said.

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