Rick Santorum is surging in national polling. As Ed Morrissey notes, in a two-man race, Santorum beats Mitt Romney among Republicans by a sweeping 55% to 34% margin. In other words, ouch.
But while many pundits suggest that Santorum has a real chance to win the nomination, so long as Newt Gingrich stays in the race, that seems increasingly unlikely. Romney currently leads the delegate count by a count of 123 to 72; Newt Gingrich has 32 delegates, and Ron Paul has 19. Santorum isn’t on the ballot in Virginia (49), or more crucially, in Indiana (46), which is a winner-take-all state. The other winner-take-all states are Arizona (29, and presumably a Romney win), Michigan (30, for Santorum), Puerto Rico (23, likely to go Romney), Maryland (37, likely Romney), Washington, D.C. (19, Romney), Wisconsin (42, a toss-up, but probably Romney), Delaware (17, Romney), California (172, a toss-up, but likely Santorum), Utah (40, Romney). When you count all that up, Romney picks up 302 delegates to Santorum’s 202. If Romney wins California, of course, he blows Santorum out of the water.
What we’re looking at, then is a presumptive lead for Romney of 151 delegates. In the other, proportional states, Romney just needs to run relatively even with Santorum – which he will, since he has large leads in some of the most populous states, like New York and Massachusetts.
It’s worth noting here the disproportionate impact that winner-take-all states have on the primary process in general. In 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) cleaned up in those states, winning nearly all of them, including Florida, South Carolina, and California. It’s also worth noting that most of the winner-take-all states tend to be on the liberal end of the GOP spectrum, meaning that they disproportionately push the party to the left.
So where does Gingrich come in? By splitting the vote, Gingrich prevents Santorum from picking up significant ground in the proportional states – and he stops Santorum from winning big numbers in the South, which is Newt’s stomping ground and Romney’s weak ground. Gingrich has shown no desire to drop out, at least not until he’s been able to test his strength on his home turf. By the time he does step out, it will likely be too late for Santorum to make any sort of real comeback.
Get used to it, folks: Romney looks more and more like the real frontrunner. The media narrative with Santorum as the guy to beat is shaky at best – and it helps Romney, since as he picks up delegates, he demonstrates his bona fides.