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Here's a twist to last night's Republican primary results. In Michigan, even though Rick Santorum finished three points behind Mitt Romney, Santorum may well end up with more delegates, 17 to just 13 for Romney. That's because Michigan awards its delegates according to congressional district. And the same thing may occur on Super Tuesday.
As NPR's David Welna reports, every one of the 10 states voting next week will award delegates in a similar fashion.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Back in the GOP presidential primary's olden times - that would be around mid-January of this year - Michigan Republican committeeman and Romney supporter Saul Anuzis made a bold prediction.
SAUL ANUZIS: I think that there's a very good chance that by the time Michigan and Arizona vote, either we will have a presumptive nominee or we will be the ones that deliver the presumptive nominee going into Super Tuesday.
WELNA: But while Romney did win those contests, not many people today are calling him the presumptive nominee. Romney, himself, conceded yesterday this is no longer so much a contest about who's won the most states but instead it's about who piles up the most delegates for the GOP nominating convention next August in Tampa.
MITT ROMNEY: What we're after is delegates, so make sure we cover all the congressional districts where we think we have the best shot at picking up delegates. This is a race to get the delegates I need to become our nominee.
WELNA: And so far, this race has been about fewer than 15 percent of all the delegates at stake. That's just how Republican Party rules-makers wanted it to be when they changed the guidelines after the 2008 primary.
John Ryder is a GOP committeeman from Tennessee. He says the Republican nominating process essentially ended when 21 states took part in a Super Tuesday in early February of 2008, with the majority of them holding winner-take-all contests.
JOHN RYDER: It was a broadly held consensus that the process in '08 had concluded too soon and needed to be extended somewhat longer, to give other candidates and other states a chance to be involved and participate in the process.
WELNA: So, party officials put in place a new rule requiring most states voting before April to hold contests that awarded delegates proportionally rather than on a winner-take-all basis. A couple of states, Florida and Arizona, chose to flout that rule; they held winner-take-all contests anyway. They now run the risk of having their delegates re-allocated if there's no clear winner by the time of the GOP convention.
But elections expert Josh Putnam, of Davidson College, says there has not yet been a big impact from the rules changes.
PROFESSOR JOSH PUTNAM: As far as what we've seen so far, there are no changes in any of the contests that have gone relative to the rules that they had in 2008. So even if we were using the 2008 rules now, the delegate allocation would look exactly the same.
WELNA: The big difference will likely be noted next Tuesday, when 10 states all award delegates on a proportional basis. That could easily help drag out the contest for weeks to come.
Ohio Republican Congressman Steve Chabot lamented the prospect of that at a recent town hall meeting.
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE CHABOT: Our candidate could very well be bleeding and wounded, walking into the presidential primary when he's going to have a billion dollars that the Obama campaign is going to probably have raised, and their allies.
WELNA: And Chabot's state of Ohio, with its 66 delegates and key swing-state status, will likely be the biggest battleground next Tuesday. The University of Akron's David Cohen said polls have been showing Santorum edging out Romney in Ohio.
PROFESSOR DAVID COHEN: If Santorum is able to win a large Midwest industrial state like Ohio, I think that sends a very big signal that he's going to be competitive going forward - which is why, you know, Romney, really, based on the results last night, really needs to blunt any momentum that Santorum can get.
WELNA: One thing working against Santorum in Ohio is his failure to have filed a slate of delegates in three of the state's congressional districts, a move that will alone cost him nine delegates.
But Davidson's Putnam says, ultimately, it still matters who wins each state.
PUTNAM: As much as the rules matter, so too do the dynamics of any given race, and we've got a competitive race.
WELNA: David Welna, NPR News.
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