Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Santorum's Plan Unravels

In recent days, Republican voters have become increasingly aware that Rick Santorum's chances of winning the nomination are very small, and that Mitt Romney is extremely likely to win. Santorum has now spoke openly of his intention to force a contested convention, and that he does not expect to win an outright majority of the delegates. This betrays weakness on Santorum's part, and will diminish his appeal further: Most Republicans believe that a contested convention would be a disaster. Do voters think Santorum is so much better than Romney that they are willing to allow a contested convention? Some voters, but not enough.

It's notable that Santorum has reached this point even though the Romney-favored April schedule has not yet begun. After April's contests are concluded, the delegate math will look far more daunting for Santorum than it does now. So why has Santorum already fallen so far? Because his plan for winning the nomination has not been successful.

Beginning in February, we have frequently referred to the two different paths to the nomination. Romney's plan was to sweep the West and Northeast, while occasionally taking states in the Midwest. Santorum's plan was, at a minimum, to sweep the South and Midwest. Romney's campaign has gone according to plan, though it was rattled by Santorum's wins on February 7th (in Minnesota and Colorado). Santorum's plan has not gone so smoothly.

Of the Southern and Midwestern states that have voted so far, Santorum has lost around half of them--and that's not even counting the delegate losses suffered when Newt Gingrich failed to win a state but still got a bunch of delegates. The following is a list of the states in Santorum's regions that have voted, where Santorum failed to win for one reason or another:

Iowa (lost during initial count)

South Carolina

Remember, these are not losses in battleground regions where Santorum can afford to win some and lose some--they're losses on Santorum's home turf. Santorum was gravely weakened during the opening phase of the primary calendar, when Gingrich was considered the chief Anti-Romney for a time. Critically, Santorum also suffered narrow losses in Michigan and Ohio--contests that could have gone either way.

Things could have played out much better for Santorum. Without Gingrich in the way, Santorum would have won South Carolina and Georgia. If he had qualified for the ballot in Virginia, he would have taken that state, too. He may have fared better against Romney in Florida than Gingrich did. If Santorum had been luckier, he could have won the initial vote count in Iowa and narrowly won rather than lost in Michigan and Ohio. If all--or even some combination--of those things had occurred, the delegate math and the voters' perception of the race would look quite different.