When It Comes To Delegates, Santorum May Have A Math Problem

 Rick Santorum speaks in Mars, Pa., on Tuesday, after Mitt Romney swept primaries in Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. In his speech, Santorum declared that it's "halftime" in the race for delegates and the GOP nomination. i i

hide caption Rick Santorum speaks in Mars, Pa., on Tuesday, after Mitt Romney swept primaries in Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. In his speech, Santorum declared that it's "halftime" in the race for delegates and the GOP nomination.

David Maxwell/EPA/Landov
 Rick Santorum speaks in Mars, Pa., on Tuesday, after Mitt Romney swept primaries in Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. In his speech, Santorum declared that it's "halftime" in the race for delegates and the GOP nomination.

Rick Santorum speaks in Mars, Pa., on Tuesday, after Mitt Romney swept primaries in Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. In his speech, Santorum declared that it's "halftime" in the race for delegates and the GOP nomination.

David Maxwell/EPA/Landov

In presidential nominating contests, the delegate count really matters — right up until the moment where it doesn't.

Unfortunately for Rick Santorum, that moment seems ever more imminent in this spring's Republican presidential race.

Mitt Romney's overwhelming wins this week in three states (including Wisconsin, where Santorum not too long ago had been leading in the polls) seem to have reconfirmed the sense that he has cleared all the major hurdles, and the rest is mere formality.

So while it is technically true that Romney has not yet reached the halfway mark to the 1,144 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination, the math underlying the remaining contests sets up a glide path for him and a stone wall for Santorum.

Consider: Santorum would need 76 percent of the remaining available delegates to get to 1,144. Romney only needs 49 percent — which, by the way, is a lower target than the 52 percent that his three opponents combined would need to block him from reaching that mark.

Santorum's campaign Thursday released a memo to counter the developing consensus that the race is over.

It argues that he will receive a significant percentage of the 79 delegates Romney won in Florida and Arizona, which broke Republican National Committee rules by holding winner-take-all contests too early.

It claims Texas' delegate rules will be switched from proportional to winner-take-all, thereby giving Santorum the chance to pick up 155 delegates on Romney in a single day.

Both those scenarios, however, require the help of RNC officials. The first would need a successful challenge at the summer convention. The second would require an RNC waiver to let Texas change its rules months after the deadline.

With Santorum holding fewer than half of the delegates Romney has, why would RNC officials and members do this?

Through much of last year, Romney worked hard to sell the notion that he was the inevitable GOP nominee. Now, with potential stumbling blocks in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin behind him, it's a notion that no longer seems like it needs much selling.

S.V. Dáte is the NPR Washington Desk's congressional editor.

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