Do the Math: Santorum's Best Shot May Be Gingrich's Remaining in the Race

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Rick Santorum's Dixie double has renewed calls from supporters and pundits for Newt Gingrich to drop out of the Republican presidential primary and allow Santorum a proper one-on-one duel with frontrunner Mitt Romney.

But the conventional wisdom may be falling flat in the face of simple math.

Even after Tuesday night's results, Romney leads the race to the nomination-clinching 1,144 delegates by an overwhelming margin - 496 to second-place Santorum's 252. Newt Gingrich, in third place, ahead of Ron Paul's 48, has won 133. So with just over 40 percent of the delegates awarded, it would take, as Romney's aides say, "an act of God" to see their man lose his lead.

Given Santorum's significant delegate deficit, his best hope of consolidating the more conservative vote - and more importantly, the resulting delegates - is to have Gingrich stay in the game all the way to the convention floor in Tampa, Fla.

So while waiting on the Lord may be an option for Team Santorum, ganging up with Gingrich is likely the better play. If the former Speaker's campaign keeps amassing delegates, Gingrich could accrue enough support that, when coupled with Santorum's, the total meets or exceeds that of the current frontrunner.

"The key to Santorum's strategy is to keep Romney's delegate count low and keep Santorum close," says GOP strategist Soren Dayton, who worked with a number of current Santorum advisers on the McCain campaign in 2008. While Santorum would rather go it alone in some winner-take-all states like Wisconsin and Maryland (April 3), having Gingrich in the running supports the broader strategy.

Whatever the plan, an official Santorum-Gingrich alliance remains unlikely, according to another Republican operative. Convention floor shenanigans require the organization and management of a lot of moving pieces, and even with the Speaker vowing to take the fight to Tampa, there's some doubt anyone in the current field is capable of marshalling all his delegates in such a tense and chaotic setting.

Still, if Gingrich were to leave the race now or in the coming weeks, not only would this option go out the window, but there's no evidence in current polling that Santorum would benefit from the fallout. The myth of the "Gingtorum" vote seems to be just that. Polls done last night showed no indication that the Gingrich vote would flock, en masse, to Santorum if their guy were to drop out. In fact, most of the figures show that Gingrich and Santorum voters go to the polls for very different reasons.

"Gingrich won voters in both states focused on the candidate with the best experience to serve as president," writes Gary Langer, ABC News poll maven and Langer Research Associates president, "and experience, as in previous states, was weak for Santorum."

In the case of Gingrich's theoretical departure, one can reasonably expect his supporters to do one of four things - flip to Santorum; turn to Romney; jump on board with Paul; or just avoid the ballot box altogether. That kind of fracture would do little to change the dynamic of the race.

"The nomination is an impossibility for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich," a Romney campaign strategist told reporters a week ago in Boston. But Gingrich himself disagrees, telling ABC News Senior Political Correspondent Jonathan Karl on Tuesday night, "We're actually helping because between us - Santorum  AND I - are stopping Romney."

He can certainly try - he's promised he will, one way or another -  but as one GOP consultant who worked with the Perry campaign this season told ABC News with a sigh, "Romney is going to be our candidate. I can't see anyway he will not be. We should all get behind him and make the best of it."