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Opinion,Politics & Elections

More on Mitt's Math

Mar. 14th, 2012
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RALEIGH – Although Rick Santorum made the news headlines by winning the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, it was Mitt Romney who got a bit closer to the nomination in the count that really mattered – the number of delegates awarded in all four of Tuesday’s contests.

Obviously, the Romney campaign would have been happier with higher vote totals in the two Deep South states. And Newt Gingrich would have been happier coming in first rather than second. The reality is, however, that Santorum didn’t win by large enough margins in Alabama and Mississippi to change the dynamics of the race.

Here’s one way to think about it: . the Republican presidential contest might be running contemporaneously with the NCAA basketball tournament, but the two sports have little in common.

In a single-elimination basketball tournament, all that matters is who wins and who loses. You win, you advance. You lose, you go home. But in the presidential-nomination tournament, who wins the individual “games” – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, etc. – is not nearly as important as how many points are scored. You’d rather come in second in a high-scoring game than win a low-scoring game. You’d rather lose 75-73 than win 55-53. And when you do win, it pays to run up the score. Taking the game with a final shot at the buzzer is decisive in basketball. Not so much in a primary, unless it is one of the few winner-take-all contests.

By winning the North Dakota game on Super Tuesday, for example, Santorum got 11 delegates to Romney’s 7. So he made a net gain of 4 delegates against the frontrunner Romney. But on the same day in Georgia, even though Gingrich got the bulk of the delegates at 52, Romney’s second-place showing got him 19 delegates while Santorum got only 3. It was more valuable to come in second in Georgia than to come in first in North Dakota.

And consider what happened last Saturday. Santorum won the caucus that got the most press attention, Kansas, snagging 33 delegates to Romney’s 7 for a net gain against him of 26. But Romney won a combined 25 delegates in Guam, the Northern Marinas, and the Virgin Islands, as well as solidifying the delegates from his February win in the non-binding Wyoming caucus. Romney actually scored as many or more points than Santorum did on Saturday, which is all that will matter by the time Republicans convene for their national convention in Tampa.

Recognizing that total points scored matters more than games won helps to put into perspective yesterday’s contests in the Deep South and the Pacific.

Going into yesterday’s balloting, Romney had won 40 percent of the roughly 8 million votes cast thus far in the Republican presidential race. Santorum and Gingrich had each won about a quarter of the “popular vote,” as one might call it, with Ron Paul getting just above 10 percent.

But in bound or estimated delegates, in points scored, Romney was further ahead with 54 percent to Santorum’s 24 percent, Gingrich’s 14 percent, and Paul’s 8 percent. Essentially, the ratio of votes to delegates thus far had worked to the benefit of Romney, to the detriment of Gingrich, and was a wash for Santorum.

As National Review’s Brian Bolduc reported yesterday, Santorum and Gingrich would each need to rack up about two-thirds of remaining delegates to take the nomination away from Romney. But of the delegates up for grabs yesterday in Alabama, Mississippi, Hawaii, and Samoa, Romney appears to have won 40, Santorum 35, and Gingrich 25. Santorum widened his lead over Gingrich, both in the popular vote and delegate count. But Romney slightly widened his delegate lead over Santorum by finishing close to him the Southern contests and winning the Pacific ones.

Santorum’s only hope would be if Gingrich dropped out and virtually all of his support went to Santorum. Neither seems likely. Romney’s nomination does.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.