ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:
Delegate math? That’s a topic only “insiders” care about, Mitt Romney said on Sunday.
His comments, however, don’t square with the message he and his campaign have been driving home recently — especially over the last week.
“I know a lot of people will talk about delegates and strategies and math and that’s all very interesting to the insiders,” Romney said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “But I think the American people want to see someone who has the leadership, skill and experience to defeat the president, and a vision of conservatism that will get American back on track again.”
But rewind to Tuesday when he told reporters ahead of the Alabama and Mississippi primaries: “This is all about getting delegates. If the polls are right, we’ll pick up some delegates. That’s what it’s all about.”
Later that day, after Santorum won both states, Romney said in a written statement that he was “pleased that we will be increasing our delegate count in a very substantial way after tonight.”
“With the delegates won tonight, we are even closer to the nomination,” he added.
By 11 a.m. the next day, Romney’s political director Rich Beeson had fired off a memo with one central message: “Tuesday’s results actually increased Governor Romney’s delegate lead.”
(Romney did, in fact, capture more delegates last Tuesday despite Rick Santorum’s wins in the two Southern States.)
In an interview on Fox News Wednesday morning, Romney echoed his campaign’s point about the delegate math: “Oh, and by the way, last night I got more delegates than anybody else.”
And while campaigning in Mobile, Ala. two days earlier, Romney noted in another Fox News interview, “this is all about delegates.”
“At this stage we’re putting together as many delegates as we can. We’ve got a good solid lead,” he said. “We’re closing the deal, state-by-state, delegate-by-delegate.”
Romney even volunteered a procedural point: “As you know delegates are awarded proportionally, so that lengthens the process, but we’re winning this.”
On Sunday, however, his recall of party rules appeared fuzzier.
“I can’t tell you exactly how the process is going to work,” he told Fox’s Bret Baier, “but I bet I’m going to become the nominee.”
The former Massachusetts governor’s team in Boston has been aggressively touting their delegate advantage, using terms for their rivals’ ultimate fate like: “date of mathematical elimination.” But Romney’s advisers also seem to be heeding warning calls coming from inside and outside of the Republican Party that math is not a message.
“Let your smart operatives do the process stuff. You do the vision thing,” GOP pollster Whit Ayers said in an interview with The New York Times last week, giving Romney some unsolicited advice. “It’s a mistake to get sucked into a mathematical discussion to the point where that’s the only message that is being communicated.”
As the candidates claw toward the magic number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination — 1,144 — Romney has a heavy advantage. The latest ABC News tally shows Romney with 501 delegates compared to 253 for Rick Santorum, 136 for Newt Gingrich, and 50 for Ron Paul.
But Romney’s Democratic opponents have been only too happy to see arguments over the delegate count overshadow other Republican talking points.
“When you listen to him over the course of this week shift his message from anything that a voter might care about to delegate math, you can see why he’s having trouble catching on,” Bill Burton, the head of a Democratic super PAC, said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “If I’m his campaign, I’m trying to focus on the economy, trying to focus on issues that actually matter, not going on television day after day talking about the probably of different mathematical scenarios.”