Posted at 08:59 PM ET, 03/09/2012

Santorum sketches out a path forward in the delegate race

This post has been updated.

WICHITA, Kansas — Mitt Romney’s near-insurmountable lead in the GOP delegate race?

Not so insurmountable, says Rick Santorum.

Speaking with a handful of reporters after a rally at an airport hangar here on the eve of the Kansas caucuses, the former Pennsylvania senator dismissed the Romney camp’s argument that their candidate is well on his way toward becoming the GOP’s presumptive nominee.

Rather, Santorum argued, there are still plenty of unknowns in the delegate race.

Those unknowns include the allocation of unbound delegates from caucus states as well as the possibility that states that were sanctioned for moving up their contests — such as Florida and Arizona — may have their full delegate amounts restored and thus not end up being winner-take-all.

“The problem with [the Romney camp’s argument] is that most people don’t understand the math, these delegates,” Santorum told reporters on the ropeline after his event here, adding that most delegates were uncommitted.

“The idea that Mitt Romney has 50 delegates out of Florida is simply false,” he said. “Florida is going to be divided. If this race goes to the convention, Mitt probably will not get 50 delegates out of Florida. Mitt Romney won’t get 30 delegates out of Arizona. They can’t — they have to be proportional. That’s the rule. And the media is just perpetuating the falsehood.”

Florida and Arizona originally would have allocated some of their delegates proportionally — but since they were sanctioned for holding early contests, they shifted to winner-take-all.

Romney won both states handily, and the latest delegate tally released by the Republican National Committee on Friday shows Romney taking all 50 of Florida’s delegates and all 29 of Arizona’s.

Santorum has a point in that the sanction issue is far from settled — there remains the possibility that the states’ full delegations may be seated, or that some other changes could take place before (or even at) the convention.

The Romney campaign responded Saturday that Santorum “may be used to making up his own ‘facts,’ but he can’t make up his own math.” Spokeswoman Andrea Saul said that Romney has won over 50 percent of the delegates up for grabs thus far and has a clear path to the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination. Santorum, she said, has won only 22 percent of the delegates so must win 65 percent of the remaining ones.

“With delegates being proportionally allocated in almost all of the upcoming states, there's just not a chance for him to catch up,” Saul said, adding: “The RNC has made quite clear that it will not change Florida and Arizona’s decisions to award delegates winner-take-all.”

The second part of Santorum’s argument Friday was that caucus states have yet to actually award their delegates, and that the current projections by some media organizations fail to take into account that the delegate race in those states is independent of the straw poll process.

“Look at Iowa — I mean, I’m not even sure that Mitt Romney’s going to get a delegate out of Iowa,” Santorum said. “We might get all of them. These caucuses, these straw polls that are taken at the caucuses like in Iowa and Colorado and Minnesota -- we’re going to do better than the numbers that they have.”

“They’re not allocating any of those delegates to us,” he added. “You just wait and see how this thing shakes out. The conservative is going to win this race, and that’s why we’re here.”

Twenty-five of Iowa’s 28 delegates are unbound.

And indeed, the RNC’s newly released delegate count shows a markedly different race from some media accounts.

According to the RNC tally, out of the 863 total delegates to be awarded by the 14 states that have already held contests, Romney is in first place with 339 delegates.

“Unbound” is second with 258 delegates, former House speaker Newt Gingrich is third with 107 delegates, Santorum is fourth with 95 and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) is fifth with 22.

In addition, 42 delegate spots are reserved for Republican National Committee members, three from each state.

Those 258 “unbound” delegates make up the core of Santorum’s second point. Their allocation varies from state to state.

But most states with delegates that are currently unbound will eventually bind them to candidates later in the nominating process -- usually at state party conventions and based on the number of supporters of each candidate who ran for delegate spots on caucus day.

So Santorum may do well among them, but it would be a stretch to say he’d sweep them — particularly when candidates such as Paul have also had a strong showing in the caucus delegate races.

Ultimately, Santorum’s hope appears to be for a better-than-expected showing in the caucus state delegate race and for a convention process that differs from the current way delegates from sanctioned states are expected to be divvied up.

Wishful thinking, or real possibility?

It’s an open question, and we’d like to hear your thoughts — the comments section awaits.

By  |  08:59 PM ET, 03/09/2012

 
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