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Santorum Calculus: Strengths And Weaknesses Could Add Up To 'Nightmare Scenario'

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The story of the GOP campaign right now can be boiled down to two storylines: Rick Santorum's polling numbers and Mitt Romney's money. The former Pennsylvania senator continues to amass an impressive portfolio of public favor -- this week's polls out of Michigan have Santorum ahead, to varying degrees, and Thursday morning, Rasmussen released the results of an Ohio poll that had Santorum leading the former Massachusetts governor by a 42-24 percent margin. Those are the two states identified by Larry Sabato as critical to getting Romney back on the path to inevitability -- a path paved with several metric tons of campaign cash, all of which funds attack ads, campaign infrastructure and organization. So what exactly does it mean to be as cash-strapped as Rick Santorum is? Jonathan Bernstein lays it out:

In a close nomination battle, it's all about delegates. But Santorum's campaign is badly lagging in organization. This could mean he doesn't reap all the delegates that might be his due if we assume, for the sake of argument, that his current popularity holds or even gets stronger. Santorum has already failed to make the ballot in two key states, Virginia and Indiana. Has he filed full delegate slates in other states where it's required? If not, he could win, but still not get delegates.

In most GOP caucus states, the voting is not strictly connected to delegate selection. If Santorum's voters don't understand the procedures, it's very possible he could win the vote and yet pick up only a handful of delegates. Indeed, that may have already happened in caucus states he's won, like Iowa, Colorado, and Minnesota.

What's interesting about this is that Santorum's campaign is, essentially, an inverse of Ron Paul's. What Paul brings to the table is a more-than-adequately funded operation of well-schooled operatives who have been taught to work the caucus system like pros and snatch additional delegates from the jaws of second- and third-place finishes. Santorum is amassing wins, and is setting the table for more of the same, but his ragtag operation may not be able to max out these successes on the delegate leaderboard.

As Bernstein notes: "Because there's such a bewildering mix of delegate selection rules in the Republican process, a smart campaign can focus on the best places to win delegates. But it's hard to make good strategic choices when you don't even have a pollster!" (Let's recall that back in January, Santorum's "Michigan operation" boiled down to some dude with a Facebook page.)

But how does all of this add up to a GOP "nightmare scenario," as Bernstein refers to it? Well, imagine a future in which Santorum continues to dominate the polls, rack up primary wins, and win a greater share of what we'll call, for the sake of argument, the "vote," only to lose the one contest that matters -- delegates -- to Romney. See the problem? If it's not immediately apparent to you, click over to Bernstein to see how the story ends.

READ THE WHOLE THING:
A GOP nightmare scenario [The Plum Line]

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