- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2012

ANALYSIS:

From one perspective, Tuesday’s Republican primaries in Alabama and Mississippi were two more in a long series of contests this year that have left the Republican presidential nomination picture as cloudy as a 1952 DuMont TV screen with rabbit ears.

And the battle among Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich once again frustrates those looking for a consistent theme. This week’s results continued a pattern where one or another of the candidates walked off as the clear winner, only to fall back to the pack in subsequent contests, going from surge to dirge.

“Overall, Santorum won one more delegate than Romney and Gingrich, so while it’s nice to be the winner, it was obviously a tight three-man race with little separation between the candidates,” said Mississippi GOP Chairman Joe Nosef.

“I have never been part of an election this closely divided,” said longtime activist Matt Fridy, a member of the Alabama GOP Steering Committee.

Still, a look at some of the hard numbers of the Republican race offers a little clarity, even as those same numbers point to a hard slog to the party’s Tampa, Fla., convention in late August and the ability of any candidate to secure the 1,144 delegates needed to win.

Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul can take comfort from the fact that Mr. Romney’s average popular vote share has been just 39 percent, according to RealClearPolitics.com. If he were to take 39 percent of the remaining 1,289 delegates still up for grabs, he would be able to add only 503 additional delegates to the 495 he already has won.

And even if Mr. Romney were to take most or all of the 146 Republican National Committee “superdelegates,” that still might not be enough to avoid the dreaded — by many in the GOP establishment — open or brokered convention.

But another pattern exists in these numbers: Even in the current four-way contest, Mr. Romney has been averaging 53 percent majorities of the delegates in the 30 contests since Jan. 3, far more than his raw vote totals would suggest.

Mr. Santorum, by contrast, has averaged just 25 percent of the delegates available. Mr. Gingrich has averaged 15 percent, and Mr. Paul is averaging 7 percent.

Still ahead are 26 primaries and caucuses before the delegates convene in Florida to formally pick their nominee.

The picture looks both clear and promising to Mr. Romney in part because, in April alone, he would be favored to sweep seven out of eight state primaries — some of them winner-take-all — based on the popular vote, giving him momentum going into the final contests in May and June, reaching the magic total of 1,144 from Romney-friendly states such as California, New Jersey and Utah.

What should make rivals shudder is that, if Mr. Romney can maintain his average delegate take of 53 percent per contest, he will capture an additional 683 delegates on top of the 496 he already has won, for a total of 1179, even before the RNC superdelegates are counted.

What also should be comforting to Mr. Romney’s campaign organization, which has remained surprisingly intact despite the recent electoral difficulties, is that he can claim a clear margin in the popular vote so far.

His total stands at 3,472,365 votes, for a 39 percent share. Mr. Santorum has received a cumulative total of 2,282,245 votes (26 percent), Mr. Gingrich 2,101,951 votes (24 percent) and Mr. Paul 949,207 votes (11 percent).

The hard numbers for now are battling the low estimates even many GOP voters express for their choices, leaving the impression that lots of voters could not muster the enthusiasm to bother voting, while others gritted their teeth and voted despite their inclinations.

“Here in Alabama, Republicans in the metropolitan areas were ready for the primary to be over, so they held their nose and voted for Romney,” said Alabama Republican National Committee member Paul Reynolds. “But the metro areas were not enough to offset the rural counties voting their religious beliefs.”

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