Santorum’s Strategy: Deny Romney A First Ballot Win
As is usual with the AP, they get a few things right and a few things wrong, but let’s take a quick look anyway.
Rick Santorum’s strategy for becoming the Republican presidential nominee comes down to this: prevent Mitt Romney from winning enough delegates to arrive at the GOP convention this summer with a mandate and persuade delegates to ignore election results in their states.
The hope is that delegates will go with Santorum as the more conservative option over front-runner Romney. But there’s a hitch: Newt Gingrich is refusing to quit the race.
It’s a long-shot gamble for a candidate who began as long shot and badly trails Romney in delegates leading to the August convention in Tampa, Fla., where Republicans will pick a challenger to President Barack Obama.
Adding to Santorum’s money and organizational challenges is the fact that Gingrich is splitting the conservative vote and is dismissing pressure by Santorum to drop out after losing this past week in Alabama and Mississippi.
Actually, at this stage of the game, that’s not really a hitch. A recent Fox News poll shows that if Gingrich drops out, Romney picks up about five percentage points (going from 38 to 43 percent) while Santorum only picks up seven, going from 32 percent to 39. Of course, those numbers are fluid, and could change any time, but right now Gingrich is actually siphoning off support that would otherwise go to Romney.
Santorum sees himself as the preferred candidate of conservatives, given victories in the Deep South and elsewhere. He’s betting that he can buck tradition by getting delegates at the local level to thwart the will of the people and side with him over Romney.
Santorum hopes to ride into Tampa with enough support to deny Romney the nomination on the first ballot. Under this scenario, delegates would be free, in many cases, to back whomever they wanted.
Yob’s memo said Romney “will perform worse on subsequent ballots as grassroots conservative delegates decide to back the more conservative candidate. Subsequently, Santorum only needs to be relatively close on the initial ballot in order to win on a later ballot as Romney’s support erodes.”
This actually could happen, though there are hurdles…and not just the ones the AP is reporting on:
But there are hurdles Santorum is overlooking.
It takes money and organization to twist arms at local, county and state conventions; Santorum lags in both. Also, Gingrich is still kicking and has a chunk of conservative support.
Yes, Gingrich is still kicking, but after losing two contests in his home territory of the south, his campaign is pretty much assured of going nowhere except down. However, my read on Gingrich is that he’s not staying in so much to win as to do the same thing as Santorum: deny Mitt the nomination. If August comes and Mitt doesn’t come out of Tampa the nominee, I think Newt will be satisfied. Probably not as happy as he would have been if he’d been the winner, but pleased enough to have stopped Mitt.
The biggest hurdle Santorum faces is his unfortunate tendency to open his mouth without first engaging his brain, leading to statements that even make his supporters wince. If he can’t get that impulse under control, he’s as good as out of the race, which would leave us with Romney and all his baggage, flip-flops, and lefty positions.
It’s definitely a long-shot strategy, but long shots have come through before.