In the aftermath of Super Tuesday, it’s clear to almost everyone that Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are all but mathematically prevented from achieving a first-ballot victory at the convention. The real question is whether Mitt Romney will win the 1,144 delegates necessary by the end of voting in June (Utah is the last state to vote, on June 26). On that question there’s a lot of informed discussion.
Josh Putnam, a political scientist at Davidson College, has a projection model for the primaries (he had a pretty good one in 2008 for the Democrats, which turned out to be quite accurate). Professor Putnam’s analysis suggests that Governor Romney is very likely to get an all-out majority. Others, like RealClearPolitics’s Sean Trende, lays out a scenario in which after the Utah race Romney still ends up with less than the number of delegates needed to win the nomination.
Just to make things interesting, let’s assume that Romney does fall short of the necessary 1,144 delegates. If that’s the case, Romney is still the favorite to win the nomination because the odds are very much in his favor that he’ll arrive in Tampa with a large enough lead on Rick Santorum (or anyone else) that after the first round of voting he’ll secure the delegates he needs.
Is it possible that between now and late June Santorum takes off like a rocket while Romney begins to collapses, with the result being that (a) Santorum ends up almost neck-and-neck with Romney in the delegate count and (b) GOP delegates, after the first round of voting, flock to Santorum because Romney is simply too weak?
Such a scenario is not impossible, but it seems to me that the odds of it occurring are quite small. It would require a dramatic shift in voting patterns that would be not only unusual but unprecedented. (Through the first two months and 23 contests, Romney has won 47 percent of the awarded delegates, Santorum 24 percent, and Gingrich 14 percent.) I have a friend who says that new paradigms are forming at a faster rate than we can do them analytical justice. He may be right and I may be wrong. The good news is that this matter will be resolved within a few months.