Romney: Impossible For Rivals To Win Nomination

It took a lot of money and the margins were sometimes painfully slim, but Mitt Romney pulled out some important victories on Tuesday night in the race for the Republican nomination for President. Melissa Block talks to Ari Shapiro, who spent Wednesday at Romney headquarters in Boston.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Super Tuesday is behind us, and the campaigns have done their Wednesday morning quarterbacking. So now, we'll hear how the race moves forward for last night's two biggest victors, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

First up, the Romney camp. They are arguing that it is now mathematically impossible for anyone else to win the Republican presidential nomination. Romney's senior advisers held a briefing in Boston today. NPR's Ari Shapiro was there, and he joins us now.

And Ari, they're saying mathematically impossible. We're talking about delegate counts, right?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Exactly. So bear with me as I go through some numbers with you, all right?

BLOCK: Mm-hmm.

SHAPIRO: Now, if you look at the delegate count so far, Mitt Romney has won more than half of the delegates. So to get to the magic number of 1,144 that you need to win the nomination, Romney has to do less well than he has done up until now. So that's the state of his race.

BLOCK: OK.

SHAPIRO: They've got some breathing room. Now, in contrast, look at Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Each of them has won about a fifth of the delegates so far. So in order to win, either of them would have to get about two-thirds of the delegates left on the table. As one senior Romney aid put it, it would take an act of God for anyone but Romney to win the nomination at this point.

The staffer said they - meaning Santorum and Gingrich - would have to overperform in ways that they have not performed until now. You would have to bend the laws of reality to assume that they could do that.

BLOCK: OK. But looking ahead, Ari, on the primary calendar, there are some really tough states ahead for Mitt Romney. The next states to vote are Mississippi, Alabama and Kansas. Conceivably, could the results in those states flip this race around?

SHAPIRO: Not really. Those are tough states for Romney. But the thing is, they're not winner-take-all states. So even if Romney finishes second or third, he's still going to add to his pile of delegates. And in fact, the way the map is set up in the Republican nominating contest, the big winner-take-all states are all behind us - you know, Virginia, perhaps Florida.

There are four winner-take-all states left, but they all tend to favor Romney. Those states are Delaware, New Jersey, Utah and Washington, D.C. The really big states left - like California and Texas - are going to divvy up their delegates among the top finishers in the race. There really are no more Super Tuesday nights. It's kind of incremental from here on out.

BLOCK: Now, Mitt Romney has only won some of the states that you talked about, Ari, by outspending his rivals hugely. In Ohio, he outspent Rick Santorum by nearly 10 to 1 in just the last week. What do his campaign staffers say about that?

SHAPIRO: Well, they argue that you need that kind of money and organization to go up against the Obama machine in the fall. But the fact is, for them to focus on that glosses over some of the real demographic challenges that Romney has faced from state to state. He still has a hard time winning over lower-income voters, socially conservative voters, Tea Party members, evangelical voters.

You know, the obvious subtext to the Romney campaign's message today is that they would like other Republicans to drop out so that Romney can stop having to answer these difficult questions about why he can't unify the Republican base; instead, focus on President Obama, and save the millions of dollars that he's now spending bashing his fellow Republicans.

BLOCK: And apart from asking his fellow Republicans to bow out, what is Romney's strategy, looking forward?

SHAPIRO: Well, this briefing today was kind of an inoculation against what could be some bad news coming out of places like Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama in the week ahead. As we've mentioned, those are not states he's likely to win. Since they are states where a second- or third-place finish could add to the delegate pile, his superPAC is already spending more than a million dollars on TV ads in those states, largely attacking Rick Santorum.

The Romney campaign has not said, and would not say today, whether they're still burning through cash faster than they've been taking in donations. Today, spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the campaign did bring in 11 and a half million in February. That was their second best month yet. Another aide said yeah, we do spend a lot of money but we take in a lot of money, too.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Ari Shapiro with the Romney campaign in Boston. Ari, thanks a lot.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

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