Santorum’s delegate chase eyes do-overs
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is falling so far behind Mitt Romney in the race for Republican delegates that his best chance might be in states that voted weeks ago.
The chief rival to the frontrunning Mr. Romney, Mr. Santorum is trying to improve his lot in places such as Iowa and Washington state, where local caucuses were just the first step in determining delegates to the Republican National Convention.
In those states and a few others, supporters are now preparing for county, congressional district and state conventions, where the campaigns hope to keep their delegates — and possibly poach some from other candidates.
Mr. Santorum’s delegate count could use a boost. He trails Mr. Romney by 300 and would need to win 74 percent of the delegates in the remaining primaries to clinch the nomination before the national convention in August. So far, Mr. Santorum is winning just 27 percent, according to the tally by the Associated Press.
But the Santorum campaign predicts that he will significantly increase his delegate haul in caucus states, primarily at the expense of the former Massachusetts governor.
“The Romney campaign likes to talk about how they have this superior organization in these caucus states, and therefore, they are going to perform well,” said John Yob, Mr. Santorum’s national delegate director. “If you believe the Romney campaign’s spin that they have this superior organization, but yet they’re losing these contests, it must mean they have a deficient candidate who is unable to appeal to the base of the party.”
The Romney campaign calls that assessment laughable and questions whether Mr. Santorum has a sufficient organization to compete in upcoming primaries while also trying to rally supporters in states that held caucuses weeks or months ago. This weekend, for example, Louisiana holds its primary Saturday, the same day county conventions kick off in Washington state.
Rich Beeson, Mr. Romney’s political director, notes that Mr. Santorum didn’t get on the ballot in Virginia or the District of Columbia and failed to file full slates of delegates in Ohio and Illinois.
“You’re all of a sudden going to be able to organize at a state convention, a county assembly, and start stealing delegates from us?” Mr. Beeson said. “We have a plan in place. We will maintain and increase our delegates at the caucus level.”
Mr. Romney leads the race for delegates with 563, including endorsements from Republican National Committee members who automatically attend the convention and can support any candidate they choose. Mr. Santorum has 263 delegates, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has 135 and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has 50.
It takes 1,144 delegates to win the Republican nomination to take on President Obama in the fall.
Six states have held local caucuses that were only the start of a multistep process to win actual delegates. Together, those states have a total of 223 delegates, which will be up for grabs at county, congressional district and state conventions sprinkled throughout the spring.
In five of the states — Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Maine and Washington — the AP used local caucus results to project the number of national delegates each candidate would win if he maintained the same level of support throughout the process. The sixth state, Missouri, didn’t release statewide results from local caucuses, so it was impossible to make a projection.
Mr. Santorum has more delegates in the five states than any other candidate, according to the AP tally: 73, compared to 62 for Mr. Romney, 15 for Mr. Paul and none for Mr. Gingrich.
It was two days before the “Reason Rally” — a gathering of nonbelievers, secular humanists and agnostics on the Mall — and celebrity activist for atheism Richard Dawkins still didn’t know what he was going to talk about.
“Well, I’ll probably say something to the effect that the secular Constitution of this country is the envy of the world,” Mr. Dawkins said. “It would be a tragedy if it were let down.”
Mr. Dawkins is the kind of person Reason Rally Coalition co- chairman David Silverman wants. He said the event, which organizers have suggested could draw some 30,000 people Saturday, is tailored to a young generation that he sees as a rising secular force.
The rally has a political message: “We vote. We live here. We buy things. We matter,” organizer and journalist Jamilia Bey said Thursday at a briefing at the National Press Club.
Mr. Dawkins, comedian Eddie Izzard and Adam Savage, co-host of Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters,” are on the speakers’ list. The rally was timed for maximum political impact, with Congress in session, the Republican presidential battle in full swing, and the general election just over seven months away.
Jesse Galef, director of publicity for the Reason Rally Coalition, said the numbers suggest the unchurched and unbelieving are an underrated force in the American electorate, despite the fact that just one member of Congress, Rep. Fortney Pete Stark, California Democrat, has publicly proclaimed himself an atheist.
A 2008 survey by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture found that 15 percent of Americans considers themselves religious skeptics, while 22 percent of high school and college-age youth are skeptical of faith or openly atheistic.
“That’s a huge difference and, we think, a sign of things to come,” Mr. Galef said.
Mr. Silverman said that secular American voters have long been belittled and ignored, and they have failed to come together as a voting bloc. The coalition, which plans a lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill for Friday ahead of the rally, backs a greater separation of church and state and the repeal of laws granting special privileges to religious groups, Mr. Galef said.
The coalition says society and the law discriminate against atheists. “This I believe is a civil rights issue,” Ms. Bey said. She told the story of a former boss, a Christian, who pressed her on her faith. When she told him she had no religion, he fired her. She declined to say where she worked.
Rally speakers also say the evangelical conservatives and right-wing religious groups have too much power in the current American political debate.
“Part of what this rally is about is to show that there is an audience and a base for those willing to stand up against the religious right forcing their beliefs on everyone,” said comedian Paul Provenza, who will emcee the event.
At least one Christian group is planning a counterdemonstration. Rick Schenker, president of Ratio Christi, a student apologetics group, is part of True Reason, a group of Christians formed in response to the Reason Rally.
About 40 students from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro will walk through the crowd, handing out water and a booklet explaining how Christianity is a rational faith.
“If you are truly here for reason, we’re here to say ‘Christianity is reasonable, rational and it’s true,’ ” he said.
Mr. Silverman calls the effort by True Reason “pathetic.”
He said about 17 groups have registered to protest the event.