The Republican presidential primary just won't quit.
Despite the tacit and vocal assumptions of state GOP organizers in January, no candidate has gathered overwhelming momentum just yet. The race did not, in fact, wrap itself up quickly: Instead, Mitt Romney won New Hampshire, Florida, and ( tentatively) Maine; Rick Santorum won Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado; Newt Gingrich won South Carolina; and the campaign persists.
Now, thanks to delayed primaries in two significant states, the race could take even longer, and a back-loaded calendar could make late May and early June an important time for the candidates.
The Texas Republican Party announced Wednesday that the state will likely hold its GOP primary May 29, after a federal judge ordered Republicans to plan for that date. Texas's redistricting plans have been contested in federal court and without the new legislative maps, officials have been unable to proceed with orchestrating the election.
The state party had originally planned to hold its primary March 6, Super Tuesday, and this week marked at least the second postponement. The state party voiced displeasure, having planned for an earlier primary on the logic that Texas would be more influential in the GOP nominating process.
"The original will of the legislature and the people was that Texas would hold its primary on March 6," Texas GOP spokesman Chris Elam said. "The original plan was to go on that date and be assured that we would be a large prize."
Pennsylvania, meanwhile, could face similar delays. The state's primary is planned for April 24, but Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said this week that the legislature could push back the primary date, as Pennsylvania's redistricted legislative maps have also been rejected in court.
All this means the Republican race could go on at least until May, and possibly until June.
As large states, Texas and Pennsylvania will carry correspondingly heavy weight in the GOP primary process, giving candidates a reason to keep running, even if they trail in delegates and state wins, until those contests have been finished.
Texas will be important because of delegates. The Lone Star State will send 155 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., more than any state except California, which will vote June 5 and send 172 delegates.
Pennsylvania will be important because it's a big state, and the home of Santorum. Pennsylvania will send 72 delegates to Tampa, but, unlike most states, it will not "award" those delegates to the state's winner. They will be free to support any candidate at the Republican National Convention, leaving the campaigns to lobby them individually for support. But the Keystone State will supply a late referendum on Santorum's candidacy, whether he's leading the race or just still technically in it.
If both states vote in May, the GOP calendar will be back-loaded with important contests, drawing out the race even further. With Texas and California voting a week apart, late May-early June could supply the finale for Republicans in 2012, if there is a finale before the August convention.
Barring delays, it'll already be tough for any candidate to win the nomination soon. Romney, the delegate leader, won't be able to reach 1,144 delegates, the total needed to win, until April 3 in the ABC News delegate estimate, even if he wins 100 percent of the vote in every state. If Texas and Pennsylvania move, Romney won't be able to accrue enough "bound" delegates to win the race, apart from ABC's estimate, until May at the earliest.
Given the unlikelihood of a 100-percent Romney sweep, it's safe to say, once again, that this whole thing could take a while.