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Gingrich and Santorum: We’re in it for the long haul

at 12:31 PM ET, 01/30/2012

Mitt Romney is on course for victory in the Florida primary, but the campaigns of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum say they aren’t leaving the race anytime soon.

Gingrich’s campaign says it aims to win enough delegates in the coming months to force a brokered convention, and Santorum’s campaign has turned its focus to the contests in early February and then to Super Tuesday in early March.

The former House speaker argued over the weekend that he could stay in the race for the next four or five months and prevent Romney from getting a majority of delegates to the national convention — thereby preventing the former Massachusetts governor from winning the nomination outright. The Gingrich campaign followed this up with a memo Monday morning arguing that same point.
Candidates, from left, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul in the Republican presidential debate in Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Santorum was set to return to the campaign trail after his his 3-year-old daughter, Bella, was hospitalized over the weekend, but he’s not going back to Florida. Instead, Santorum will make four stops Monday and Tuesday in states holding early February contests — Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado and Nevada. The former Pennsylvania senator’s campaign said it was moving “toward Super Tuesday.”

On top of that, Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-Texas) campaign has said for months that it has a long-term strategy focused on rounding up as many delegates as possible. To that end, he has also moved his focus to the caucus states in early February.

So, will the field remain crowded for weeks or months? Or are these candidates doing a little wishful thinking?

The answer is probably a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

Whether the race continues for a long time depends on two factors: money and delegates.

To raise money, a candidate needs to convince everyone that he or she is staying in the race and has a chance to win. By pointing towardsfuture contests the day before a likely Romney win in Florida’s primary, Gingrich and Santorum are assuring their donors that they will press on, in hopes that they will get the funding to do just that.

Whether they will get it is another matter entirely.

We know very little about the financial health of either candidate’s campaign because they haven’t filed financial reports since mid-October. Both men raised money quickly when they had momentum in the race, but that momentum was rather short-lived. Before that, they were each running the most meagerly funded campaigns in the presidential race.

Still, Gingrich’s campaign said in its memo that it “is now in a position where we will be able to respond to Romney’s ads in every state moving forward.”

What that means is anybody’s guess.

In the memo, Gingrich’s national political director, Martin Baker, argued that the winner of Florida’s primary Tuesday will be less than 10 percent of the way to the 1,144 delegates he needs to win the nomination.

“Either way, there is a long way to go before either candidate clinches the nomination and this campaign will continue for months,” Baker said.

That’s technically true. In fact, in Monday’s paper, The Washington Post’s graphic team put together a wonderful illustration of this very argument.

The graphic demonstrates that most delegates won’t be handed out until well after Super Tuesday on March 6, which means Romney wouldn’t officially lock up the nomination for at least two more months.

In addition, Florida is one of very few early states that is being allowed to award all its delegates to the winner. A rule change at the Republican National Committee means states holding primaries before April must award their delegates proportionally rather than on a winner-take-all basis (Florida is flouting this rule), which means it will be harder than it has been in the past to rack up big delegate margins in the early states.

The graphic shows that, in all, less than one-fourth of delegates will be handed out on a winner-take-all basis (504 out of 2,286); 918 delegates are awarded proportionally (either by statewide vote or by congressional district), and another 864 are available via either unpledged delegates or some other formula.

But as we argued earlier this month, if Romney is the clear frontrunner and puts together a winning streak, it is still very possible for him to get a big delegate lead, even early in the contests.

Some of the states holding contests before April allocate their delegates by congressional district (with the winner of each district getting three delegates), and some allow a candidate to win all their statewide delegates if he or she takes a certain percentage of the vote, usually 50 percent plus one.

If Romney is the clear frontrunner — and he’s got a great shot to cement that status in February — it seems logical that he would win most congressional districts and could even take enough of the vote on Super Tuesday to trigger the winner-take-all provisions in states like Georgia and Ohio, which have large chunks of delegates.

In other words, the early states aren’t purely proportional. In fact, many of the biggest ones have rules that allow for a clear frontrunner to win a strong majority of their delegates.

So even if Gingrich, Santorum and Paul have the money to press on, if Romney is winning by large margins, he can amass a very big delegate lead.

Gingrich, Santorum and Paul not only need to stay in the race for a long time, they also need to keep Romney’s vote total down and make the contests somewhat close.

So, it may take a while longer to win the nomination than it might have in previous years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Romney or anybody else will fail to get a majority of delegates.

And, when it comes to the former Massachusetts governor’s opponents shooting for the long haul, the difficulty and cost of sustaining a campaign shouldn’t be underestimated.

 
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