We have heard that the race for the Republican nomination is over. It isn’t. Not even by a long shot.
After Tuesday night, here’s the delegate count. Mitt Romney leads the pack with 20, followed by Rick Santorum at 12. Paul has 3, Huntsman has 2, and everyone else has zero. You need 1144 delegates to win, so every candidate has a long, long way to go.
Part of the issue here is how the delegates are apportioned. In the past, most of the primaries were winner-takes-all. This led to some odd incentives where candidates would try to win a specific state or primary and then use that to springboard on to the next state.
Now they are proportionate. This means that this race will go on for a long, long time. Candidates can lose first place in a race, but rack up enough second place delegates in other states to actually win the nomination contest.
The only winner-take-all primary is Florida, which has only 48 delegates. Florida’s delegates will be awarded by congressional district, so a candidate winning eight of Florida’s 25 districts could wind up with nearly as many delegates as a candidate winning 10 districts.
That, and the fact that a number of states–California (June 5) and New York (April 24)–will hold their primaries a lot later than February 2008. In fact, there will be ten times fewer delegates committed by March 1 than there were in 2008. Super Tuesday this year is March 6, but it is a lot smaller than it was in 2008.
In the past, campaigns have ended because candidates didn’t have enough money to continue. They had “maxed” out their donors. But that won’t be a problem in 2012 where Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited money so long as they do not coordinate with a campaign.
Mitt Romney has raised a record amount of money, but he has paid dearly for every delegate he has secured. Romney raised $56 million in 2011 and unlike 2008, none of it came from himself. He had $19 million in the bank at the end of December, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Still money does not buy a presidential nomination, especially when there are so few winner-take-all primaries early in the primary process. That changes after April but that’s four months away. As long as Romney is running there are ample reasons for the other candidates to stay in the race. Romney still has never won over 50% of a primary election, despite his strong showing in New Hampshire. Assuming that they have the money to continue mounting a campaign (or that their friends have money to continue making them run that campaign), it seems that taking it to a convention is the rational strategy, especially if Romney can’t even crack 40% in New Hampshire.