- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mitt Romney needs to win three out of every four remaining Republican delegates to secure the party’s presidential nomination, a herculean task if he continues to split the conservative vote with Mike Huckabee.

Arizona Sen. John McCain captured more than 500 delegates on Super Tuesday and now holds 707 delegates — nearly 60 percent of the 1,191 needed to win the nomination at the convention in St. Paul, Minn., this summer.

“In Vegas, the odds are way up today for Romney,” Republican strategist Scott Reed said. “He’s got a real challenge.”

For the record, America’s Line, a Las Vegas oddsmaker, puts Mr. McCain’s “presidential odds” at 6 to 5, Mr. Romney’s at 25 to 1 and Mr. Huckabee’s at 200 to 1.

Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, who didn’t win any of the big states up for grabs Tuesday, has 294 delegates; Mr. Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, is further back at 195; and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has 14. There are about 1,100 delegates still available, which means to get to the magic number, Mr. Romney needs to pick up about 900 — a mathematical long shot, according to the Associated Press’ count.

“While it is certainly not impossible for Romney, it is going to take a serious McCain implosion for that to happen,” said pollster John Zogby.

The calendar of upcoming contests also becomes a severe hindrance to Mr. Romney. After Tuesday’s primary in Virginia, a winner-take-all state with 63 delegates, nearly all of the following states divvy up their delegates proportionally. That means that even if Mr. Romney comes out on top, Mr. McCain will still pick up delegates — and under the right circumstances, a second-place finish could deliver more delegates than first place.

Some of the primary rules are even more complicated. For example, in Texas, Mr. Romney could shut out Mr. McCain and take all 140 delegates if he were to win with more than 50 percent of the vote. But if he got less, which is likely in a three-way race, the delegates would be awarded on a proportional basis.

Virginia, Maryland and the District hold Republican primaries Tuesday, offering a total of 119 delegates. Ahead of the so-called “Potomac primaries,” three states have Republican contests this weekend — Kansas, Louisiana and Washington state, with 126 delegates up for grabs. Wisconsin offers 40 delegates on Feb. 19, and the last big prize is March 4, with 265 delegates available in four states, including Texas and Ohio.

Beyond that, Pennsylvania (April 22) offers 74 delegates, while Indiana and North Carolina (May 6) have a combined total of 126 delegates.

But first, Mr. Romney would have to survive Virginia, which does not shape up well for him.

Mr. McCain, a former Navy pilot and Vietnam War hero, will target the large number of active and retired military personnel across the state, just as he did in Florida and South Carolina, both of which he won. Mr. Romney and Mr. Huckabee likely will split the state’s social and religious conservatives, thus delivering all 63 delegates to Mr. McCain.

Mr. Romney will get some free press in the region when he addresses the Conservative Political Action Committee conference today in Washington. But rumors are beginning to swirl that he may soon abandon his campaign, which has cost him nearly $40 million.

His top campaign staffers yesterday held a strategy meeting in Boston to discuss finances and the primary landscape, but in an unusual move, the campaign released only a one-day schedule, not the usual week-or-so look ahead.

“Both Romney and Huckabee are facing a fork in the road: Carry on and possibly damage their brand, or find a graceful exit strategy and help unite the party around McCain,” Mr. Reed said.

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