Rick Santorum Wins in Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota Complicate the GOP Presidential Picture

The Rick Santorum trifecta wins in Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota complicate the Republican presidential picture (and with the proportional delegate system, the Santorum wins complicate the nomination process giving hope to even Ron Paul).

Santorum stole the show. His win in Missouri is nothing more than a bragging right, but, what’s more important, the margin of victory shows this race is wide open. With these wins by Santorum giving him new life and the prideful determination of all four potential nominees to not drop out of the race, the Republicans won’t likely have a nominee until the convention in August. Barring a major turn of events the Republicans will have a surprise winner or a brokered convention.

The delegate system for the Republican Party this year is a mess. There are 2,286 delegates up for grabs and a candidate would need at least 1,144 to win at the convention without it going through the brokered convention process. It will be extremely difficult for any candidate to win the 1,144 delegates needed with all four staying in the race. At this point everyone has a severe handicap.

Even with all the “wins” Santorum only has three bound delegates putting him in last place.  His wins in Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado were all symbolic in the sense that he cannot be guaranteed any delegates from those states. All four of his wins are in states that do not bind their delegates to vote as the people did (This is not to say he will get zero here, but he cannot guarantee anything at this point unless he knows who the delegates are). Further, Santorum is not on the ballot in Virginia (49 bound delegates), Illinois (69 unbound), or Washington, D.C. (16 bound). He is also not eligible for all delegates in Ohio or Tennessee.  Santorum has an uphill climb because of name recognition and his ability to keep the money coming in. Wins help keep the cash flowing, but going up against the finances of a Mitt Romney are not easy.

Newt Gingrich has 29 bound delegates from his win in South Carolina (23) and second place finish in Nevada (6). Gingrich is not on the ballot in Virginia (49 bound delegates) and is not eligible for all the delegates in Tennessee either. Gingrich is a polarizing and brash candidate who now without as many debates (his one real strength) may falter.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) as of now is on all the ballots and has 8 bound delegates from his finishes in New Hampshire (3) and Nevada (5), but he has yet to carry a state. Paul is going against the establishment of the party by running on principle and bucking the neo-conservative norms of the party’s aggressive foreign policy. As of now Paul’s strategy has been to concentrate on delegates in caucus states.

Romney currently has lead with the delegate count at 73 bound delegates. His win in Florida is the biggest factor so far giving him 50 bound delegates, along with 23 others from good finishes in New Hampshire (7), South Carolina (2) and Nevada (14). Romney has strengths like a strong financial base, name recognition, and is on all the ballots, but it seems that Republicans just don’t want him to be the nominee. Having three competitors has most likely helped Romney because it has diluted “the-anyone-but-Romney” vote.

All that said about the four candidates, gaining a majority of delegates is hard even without flaws. A little over 500 delegates are unbound, meaning at the convention the delegates do not have to vote as the people of their state voted. Winning out isn’t an option because the majority of states adopted a proportional system, so only 411 delegates are bound, as in winner-take-all.

Unless a candidate or two drops out, there will not likely be a for certain winner of the nomination before August. Candidates with a strong ground games like Paul have been focusing on winning delegates by getting people elected as precinct chairs, and delegates to the state convention. With so many unbound delegates, who knows how effective Paul’s strategy will be until the convention.

The proportional system has given incentive to this point, for all the candidates to stay in. It is conceivable that a Santorum or Paul could pull an upset at the convention and shock the political world.  This race has never been more wide open and is likely to stay that way. The question going forward for Republicans is, can they wait this long for a clear challenger to Obama?

Source for delegate total state by state

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore