For now, all four candidates are on a hunt for delegates, each with an incentive to stay in through the next several contests. Gingrich and Ron Paul were already pledging to stay in the race for the long haul, and both have shown an ability to win delegates. While Santorum’s campaign had been struggling, he now appears to be in contention for at least the next month, including Super Tuesday on March 6.
And all four candidates will compete in the 20 contests held March 6 or before — at least.
In addition, delegates will be awarded on a proportional basis in most of the early states — as opposed to on a winner-take-all basis — which means several candidates can earn delegates in each state, which will in turn make it harder for any single candidate to build a big delegate lead. AP projections based on Tuesday’s results have Santorum claiming second place in the delegate race; if he fares well in the next two contests, in Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28, he could significantly shrink Romney’s lead by Super Tuesday.
Momentum so far has been elusive. Few candidates have gotten a bounce from one contest to the next. That makes it harder to predict the future outcomes based on past results.
“I think the results leave us with a scattered field,” said Republican National Committeeman for Tennessee John Ryder. “We are past the ‘battle of annihilation.’ Nobody has been knocked out. All four remaining candidates have the ability to raise money and continue their fight.”
As they proceed, the candidates appear to be gravitating toward their regional ties.
Santorum has won three Midwestern states, including two by huge margins, and Gingrich seems to be reverting to a kind of Southern strategy that relies heavily on those states south of the Mason-Dixon Line. His lone win came in South Carolina.
To win the nomination, a candidate will need a majority of the 2,286 delegates at stake. If those delegates are being split four ways, it becomes much harder for one candidate to reach a majority — 1,144 delegates. If no candidate wins that many delegates, the nominee would be decided at the party’s August convention.
If the race does become a delegate battle, here’s how it might work:
Feb. 28 — Arizona and Michigan primaries (59 delegates)
Arizona’s primary is winner-take-all for its 29 delegates, while Michigan will award its 30 delegates on a more proportional basis.
Romney has decent prospects in both these states: Arizona has a significant Mormon population, and his father was governor of Michigan. But he has also been hammered over his position against the auto bailout, which could hurt in the Wolverine State.