Washington (CNN) - Cast aside the drama (exciting as it is) of the GOP nomination and you get to the truth: it still comes down to cold, hard delegate numbers. By CNN's estimates, Mitt Romney has a commanding early lead, despite wins and second places by all three of his opponents.
So, let's be realistic. Is there a feasible path for a non-Romney to win? "There is," said Sean Trende, senior analyst for Real Clear Politics. "It's a very narrow path but it's starting to shape up that way."
What is that path? Listen to our American Sauce podcast here. Or keep reading.
Three ways a non-Romney could win
1. Santorum wins Michigan, has big Super Tuesday. (And gets help from Texas courts.)
Michigan's delegates (30 at stake in the primary) are nothing to sneeze at, but the real game in the Wolverine State primary on February 28th is about momentum. If Santorum can beat Mitt Romney in his home state, it could give him a pivotal turbo-boost of momentum for Super Tuesday.
Then let's imagine an ideal but still possible Santorum scenario:
– Two quick victories: Imagine Santorum wins Wyoming's caucuses on Feb. 29th. Then he takes Washington state's caucuses March 3.
– Super Tuesday Caucuses: On March 6, he sweeps caucuses in Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota. In some cases Santorum wins with 40% or more of the vote.
– Super Tuesday Primaries: Let's say the former senator wins two of these three big-state primaries: Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Santorum takes second in the state where he does not win. Where delegates are allocated proportionally, let's imagine that margins of victory are single-digit, varying from one percentage point to six or seven. At this point, Santorum would still trail Romney in delegates, but would have closed some of the gap.
– (Note: this scenario would give Massachusetts and Vermont to Romney and Georgia to Gingrich. Virginia going Ron Paul would help Santorum but is not necessary for a Santorum nomination path.)
– Critical Moment: Texas. As Santorum himself has said, the Texas primary cannot come soon enough for his campaign. The Lone Star State has 155 delegates up for grabs, to be divided proportionally. This is where Santorum could overtake Romney with a big win. It would have to be a large win, but it is possible. The problem? Due to a redistricting battle now in the courts, Texas has yet to decide when it will hold its presidential primary. It could happen as early as mid-April or as late as June. For Santorum to get the nomination, he needs a big Texas win and he needs it on the calendar soon.
– When? This scenario could lead to a brokered convention. But for Santorum to become the nominee before the convention, he would need the wins above, a big day in California in June (see below) and still more help to push out Romney. This could include a Gingrich drop-out and endorsement, public gaffes from Romney or an April/May surprise story that sinks Romney's ratings.
2. Gingrich wins Ohio, the South and survives to take California.
For Gingrich to indeed become the non-Romney in the nomination, he seemingly must win or come within a hair's margin of Ohio on Super Tuesday.
Thus, here is a conceivable Gingrich ideal:
– Two good debates. In CNN's debates on February 22, in Arizona, and March 1, in Georgia, the former speaker must have a series of hits. (A few undisputed home runs wouldn't hurt either.) He must get back on the radar with conservatives.
– February 28th Surprise: Two good debates could set up an Arizona or Michigan surprise on February 28th. Gingrich is not currently expected to do well in either state. But if he could pull off another South Carolina, changing the tide in one of those states just days before the vote, his campaign would be back in the headlines.
– Super Super Tuesday. Then let's say Gingrich wins big in his home state Georgia (by more than 12 points, sweeping congressional districts). But he also wins or is in a close second in Oklahoma and Tennessee. Rick Santorum also edges out Romney in at least one of those states, keeping the Massachusetts man's numbers low. Most significantly Gingrich takes Ohio, winning the vast majority of its Congressional districts and therefore netting 30-40 of the state's 66 delegates.
– March Mix: In March, Gingrich is first or second in primaries in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Gingrich pulls out an upset along the way – possibly in winner-take-all primary in Puerto Rico. (Again, we must stress, this is an exercise to map out a conceivable way Gingrich could win. I know there are arguments against a Gingrich Puerto Rico win, hence "upset".)
– Texas. Like Santorum, Gingrich could use a victory in Texas and he needs that vote to happen in April or May. But he may be betting on a later, bigger state instead. California.
– Surviving until California. Ultimately, Gingrich wants to stay in the headlines and with the front of the pack all the way into June when the biggest bear of all comes up to vote. California has 172 delegates up for grabs (pledged and unpledged). Most of those are winner-take-all by Congressional district. That means some highly liberal areas could be decided by a small Republican population in their district. If Gingrich can hold on and win the largest number of California's delegates, it could give him momentum toward a brokered convention.
– Winning before the convention?: Similar to Santorum, Gingrich would need some help to force out Romney before the convention. That could include the Santorum alliance that Gingrich continually pitches (Santorum would drop out and endorse Gingrich.) It would also require no major mistakes from Gingrich and some stumbles in Camp Romney.
3. Mixed bag ends at convention
What many experts see as the most-likely non-Romney scenario is a mix of wins carved up between Gingrich, Paul and Santorum that leads to a situation where no candidate gets the 1143 delegates needed by convention time.
There are endless combinations for this. But one to consider is a regional split with Santorum winning in the West, Midwest and North, Gingrich winning in the South and Ron Paul winning in Virginia with a few second places and many third places in various caucuses.
In this case, maybe it's easier to look at how Mitt Romney could block his rivals:
– Michigan and Ohio: These contests are shaping up as Romney v. non-Romney tests. If the former governor can win and especially if he can win big in these states, it could start to dampen the sparks from his competitors.
– Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia: Similarly, if Romney can produce big wins in conservative areas, like Oklahoma, Tennessee and southern Virginia, it could weaken the arguments from his opponents. Don't just watch Virginia's overall vote, watch how it's most conservative regions go on Super Tuesday.
Want to test your own theories of who will win in which state?
Try out CNN's delegate counter. Click here. Seriously. Do it now. This site lets you allocate delegates by each state, to see who will end up on top based on your predictions.
Also, comment below with your theories. And again, listen to our podcast here.
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You can also listen to American Sauce on iTunes, Stitcher or subscribe to the podcast via RSS.
- CNN's Dan Szematowicz and Emma Lacey-Bordeaux contributed to this report.
Are these people forgetting that the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) named Santorum the "most corrupt" senator of 2006? I mean come on Republicans let's not make the same mistake we did in 2008, vote for Romney! Will you really be happy in November when Obama wins again, because you sent Santorum or Gingrich as our nomination?
The Kochs and Rove will not let a non-Romney win.
Want to help the rich preserve their wealth?? -----Just vote Republican.......
Sauce? More akin to making sausage.
It probably won't be enough of a reason to stop a lot of people from voting for him, but even T-partiers should factor in the fact that Santorum is insane, before they cast a vote.
It's ashame Romney, Santorum and Paul have to compete in the company of such an immoral person as Gingrich, but Gingrich has no shame.
Why does the right wing hate the Newtster? He stands for everything they believe in: Hipocrisy, infidelity, lying, hate of everyone who lives in America who is not white and rich, monarchy,the 1%, Die early for the elderly. He and Santorum are their heroes.
It appears that the GOP have no answers. McCain 4 years ago was a joke, then added Palin for more pain and shame. Most right wingers will vote, not because they like their party candidate, but because they have to.
I think a non-Romney will win and he's already in the White House!
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how to beat Willard. All you have to do is hammer him non stop on being a FLIP FLOPPER. If I were Ayatollah Santorum and Newt, I'd have negative ads running in Michigan 24/7. Mr. "Let the foreclosure crisis run it's course/Let Detroit go bankrupt" doesn't stand a chance of winning the nomination.
ELIZABETH WARREN 2012 & BEYOND
I could news for you foks, a non-Romney non-Republican *is* going to win, as in win the general election.
Cast aside the drama (exciting as it is) of the GOP nomination
Please tell me you were indulging in sarcasm because paint drying has more ebb and flow than this ridiculous,and unfortunate national spectacle the GOP is putting on.
I'd rather have ANY of the Republicans that be stuck with the Obama albatross around the neck!!
As an independent voter myself, I have to hand it to the republican party, and I know it's been said a thousand times over but you've got serious flaws in your candidates. Obama may not necessarily win by a landslide but he will win re-election because of your party's choices. This will be especially true if you count out Romney who appeals to the moderates and the, shall I dare say it, people who believe we live in a democracy, not a theocracy (I'm talking to you Santorum).
Rick Santorum is the anti-gay, anti-abortion guy who is running on these social issues. Never mind health reform or jobs. Or anything important or non-discriminatory, for that matter.
a non-Romoney will win – our President.
Obama is the non-Romney candidate. I thought everybody knew that already.
Mr. Truthiness referred to President Obama as an "albatross around my neck". As the establishment Repugnant spokesperson around here, he should know that George W. Bush is the albatross around his neck. He will prevent any Repugnant from winning the WH for a very long time. Every R candidate morphs into W when people look at them, and nobody except the hard-core stupid want to go back to that.
The caucuses do not determine the delegates!
I'm not a Paulite, but the truth is that Ron Paul will likely win a majority of the delegates from each of the caucus states... The straw poll doesn't determine the delegate distribution. It takes HOURS of sitting through the blah-blah nonsense of a convention before the delegates are voted on. The straw poll means nothing. If Santorum wins every caucus by 30% he would likely still lose the delegate count to Paul's zealot followers and well-structured ground game.
That said, the winner-take-all states will make Willard virtually undefeatable. All winner-take-all states are primaries, and most of them are "blue" states where Willard has a severe advantage (The only "red" states that have winner-take-all delegates are Indiana – where Willard may lose, and Utah – where Willard will win by 80%)
The math is just impossible for Santorum or Newt.
everyone new this speach was all show....both sides would be for roads...and yes think again i did teach for 14 yrs..
You taught WHAT for 14 years gt? Shop? Karate?
Good Gawd Almighty.
After reading this article – I believe it's spot on – regarding the paragraph that starts with : "Critical Moment" – yep – we've got 155 delegates at stake – the only problem – that the article Doesn't Say is : they aren't exactly sure when the "re-districting" will end up taking place – or when it will be finalized. I mean, with So Many People Moving here to East Texas, or South East Texas, ( mostly Democrats) the re-districting Issue my end up hindering the newter, for a win here. That's why I think Romney is going to be the one who will clinch the nomination.
Santorum is not a candidate that can beat Obama. He could get a healthy amount of votes from the far right, but that's not going to be close to enough to give him a majority.
Remember when the right wingnut tried to tell us that any one but Gore would be better in the white house? They lied then, and they are lying when they deny the economy is better under Obama without any republican help.
Nuff said about these Republican wannabes. Whoever is the winning candidate will be a loser in November. Obama 2012.
The non-Romney has already won once and will win again. He is President Obama. - OBAMA 2012
they aren't exactly sure when the "re-districting" will end up taking place
Therein lies the rub.
"Re-districting" is the ONLY way the GOP has ANY chance whstsoever of gaining the White House. It is their revised, and updated version of the robbery they committed in 2000 on behalf of their boy W.
Eyes wide open America.