Back to previous page


Post Most

With neither Romney nor Santorum scoring a knockout, GOP race becomes a crawl

By ,

The 2012 Republican presidential race began as a sprint, slowed to a walk and now has transformed itself into a grinding crawl that could last for months more.

The rapid pace that dominated the race’s first few votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — all of which cast ballots within 18 days of each other in January — is a thing of the past. A bonanza of delegates all up for grabs on a single day — as we saw when 10 states handed out more than 400 delegates on Super Tuesday — is no more. (There’s no single day when more than five states vote between now and the end of June.)

What’s taken the place of those big moments? A series of isolated and individual votes in which former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum look to claim tactical victories while failing to score the sort of strategic win that would end the race.

Saturday was a perfect example. According to a delegate count provided by the Romney campaign, the former Massachusetts governor won 38 delegates, thanks to victories in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Santorum won 34 delegates — 33 of them coming in his sweeping victory in the Kansas caucuses.

Both sides, naturally, declared victory, although all Saturday did was affirm the new reality of the Republican race: It’s going to be nasty, brutish and very likely long. At the end of the weekend, Romney stood at 454 delegates to Santorum’s 217 — neither one even halfway to the 1,144 needed to become the Republican nominee.

The Fix is nothing if not a political realist, however, so with the crawl phase of the campaign officially upon us, here’s a look — by month — of how the remaining states of the Republican presidential race are likely to play out.

March: Weeks before the Super Tuesday votes, Romney allies fretted privately that if he didn’t wrap up the nomination March 6, the rest of the month looked downright dubious for his chances. And they were right. Santorum swamped Romney in Kansas, and it’s difficult to see Romney winning either Alabama or Mississippi — though he has a better chance in the latter than the former — on Tuesday. Romney’s best hope Tuesday may be that former House speaker Newt Gingrich can eke out a win in one of the two Southern states. The rest of the month is no better for Romney. Illinois, once considered a firewall state for him, now looks to be genuinely competitive, with a new Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll showing Romney with a narrow four-point lead over Santorum.

April: If Romney can weather March, April looks to be his best month in the race — including January and February. There are only two Tuesdays on which votes will be cast. The first, April 3, includes Maryland, Wisconsin and the District, all three of which should favor Romney to differing degrees. (Wisconsin is the biggest prize of that day and is the most problematic for Romney.) Three weeks later comes what is likely to be Romney’s best day of the 2012 race, when Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island all vote. Those five states will hand out 231 delegates, and Romney will be a clear favorite in four of the five. Santorum’s likely win in his home state is a necessity for him to mitigate the damage on what will probably be a very tough day for him.

May: If March is a Santorum month and April is a Romney month, then May is a muddle month. Eight states will hold votes in May, although no more than three will vote on any one day. Santorum has more solid ground and is likely to do well in Indiana (May 8), Nebraska (May 15), Arkansas (May 22) and Kentucky (May 22). Romney is well positioned to win in Oregon (May 15) and is likely to put up a fight in North Carolina (May 8). The biggest delegate prize is Texas, which awards a massive 155 delegates and votes May 29.

June: If the nomination fight goes this far — and it could — then June 5 may well be the day that Romney wraps things up. Five states will vote that day, including California — whose 172 delegates make it the biggest prize of any state — as well as New Jersey, which is one of only a handful of states that awards its delegates on a winner-take-all basis. That’s great news for Romney, who should win New Jersey and take the most delegates out of California, too. If the race continues beyond June 5, it’s headed to a very likely Romney win in the Mormon-heavy state of Utah, which is set to vote June 26.

Viewed on that month-to-month basis, it’s clear that March and May tilt in Santorum’s favor while April and June favor Romney. That reality could give both sides enough good news to justify staying in until the bitter end. Welcome to the crawl campaign.

© The Washington Post Company