There is a general consensus in the political realm that it’s going to be very difficult, nay — just shy of impossible, for any of the other remaining GOP candidates to defeat Mitt Romney. After all, none of the other candidates have the same level of ground organization, the same strong financial support, and some of them aren’t even on the ballot in all 50 states.
All of these factors are important, and certainly should not be overlooked. However, the Republican Party nomination is won by achieving one goal; being the first candidate to gather the support of 1,144 delegates. From that perspective alone, Romney’s lead is still fragile, and the race is really just beginning.
After five voting contests, 143 delegates have been awarded. Romney currently holds a comfortable lead with 85 projected delegates. Newt Gingrich is in a relatively distant second place, with 29 projected delegates — 56 delegates behind Romney. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul round it out with 16 and 9 projected delegates, respectively.
On Tuesday Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri will hold voting contests. A total of 76 delegates are up for grabs in those states. (Missouri will not be awarding any delegates until their March 17 contest.) Those delegates will be awarded proportionally, so it is likely that each candidate will receive a share.
Romney is expected to win or at least do very well in both of those states. He won Colorado in 2008 with 60 percent of the vote, and in Minnesota he has had the backing of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty for several months. However, both of the states have strong conservative leanings and Rick Santorum has been campaigning hard in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.
The next state on the calendar after Tuesday’s contests is Maine, which will end their week of caucusing on February 11 and award 24 delegates on a proportional basis. Romney also won Maine in 2008, but Ron Paul performed strongly, and he has a large following in the fiercely independent state.
Some 202 delegates will be doled out over the next month before we get to Super Tuesday on March 6. This leaves wiggle room for the rest of the candidates to at least narrow the playing field.
If Romney loses any of the aforementioned states, with the exception of Missouri, he’ll still be awarded some delegates. However, his lead would narrow, and leave him increasingly vulnerable heading into Super Tuesday.
These mathematical possibilities are fueling the campaigns of Gingrich, Paul and Santorum. Don’t look for them to come to a consensus and throw their support behind their opponent when the numbers could in fact work in their favor. From the perspective of delegates, this race really is just getting started.