According to the Associated Press delegate count, Mitt Romney won 42 delegates last night to 38 for Rick Santorum. By winning nine delegates in American Samoa and 45 percent of the vote in Hawaii, Romney wiped out Rick Santorum’s narrow wins in the Deep South. And, just like Saturday, when Santorum won Kansas and lost ground to Romney, today Santorum’s task to get to 1,114 delegates (as he promised last night he would) is that much harder.

Over and over again you hear pundits say things like, “Well if you look at the math. . . ” and “Romney wants to focus on just the math.” There should be a gong at the ready when talking heads and pundits go into that mode. The nominating process is about the delegates. Math, like gravity, can’t be ignored.

To be clear, Santorum cannot win the nomination by closely splitting proportional states and losing winner-take-all states. That is a formula for falling further and further behind. And that is what is happening.

There are 1,358 delegates yet to be awarded. Romney has 495. He needs 694 delegates, less than 48 percent of the remaining delegates, to wrap it up.

That’s not “just” math; that’s the reality of the nominating process. Santorum, it is not surprising, is going to do better in the most conservative states and regions, but that’s not enough. He hasn’t had the reach to win in Ohio, Michigan, Florida and elsewhere, or even to win in urban and upscale suburban locales in conservative states. (For example, he lost Montgomery County in Alabama by 10 points to Romney. He lost Jefferson County by five points.) Being the most conservative candidate who can win among the most conservative voters in the most conservative states does not get you the nomination.

The trajectory of the race can change only if Santorum improbably can take winner take-all states such as New Jersey and Wisconsin and start winning the lion’s share of the votes in states where he is badly trailing (e.g. New York).

Many talking heads don’t much care for math. It takes the allure out of what they do. Their analysis about “momentum” and such gets subsumed. So like the drunk looking under the lamp post for his keys (because that is where the light is), they shrug off delegate counts and math. But that doesn’t mean the math isn’t important. In fact, it is the only thing that matters. After all, it’s a race to 1,144 delegates not to “most conservative” or “most delegates for a campaign with rotten organization.”

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