WASHINGTON -- Even though Mitt Romney was expected to do quite well Tuesday night -- and already is -- his camp's pre-results spin was designed to lower expectations, and to suggest that no one, not even Romney, may be able to gather 1,144 delegates (a majority) by the end of the nominating season in June.
Facing three determined candidates, a restive electorate and foes who have plenty of outside "independent" money to keep them going, the math of reaching a majority may be too daunting. "The math is tough," said one adviser to the campaign.
It was apparently the first time Romney's circle had floated this rather backpedaling strategic narrative.
The math didn't get much easier Tuesday night. Romney did win several states, including Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia, but Newt Gingrich won Georgia and Rick Santorum won Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Of course, should Santorum or Gingrich (or even Ron Paul) drop out of the race, or drop out of the race and endorse Romney -- scenarios that seem highly unlikely at this point -- the math could change quickly in Romney's favor.
But the Romney campaign is prepared to argue, if it comes down to it, that it will have won the most delegates, the most votes, and the most states -- even if it doesn't have the legal majority. The campaign would then appeal to 150 Republican National Committee members who are automatic unpledged delegates, and to other party leaders.
"What a surprise," said a Santorum operative. "Mitt Romney is going to rely on the establishment."
Romney aides will also likely argue at a briefing Wednesday that, even if the former Massachusetts governor cannot easily win a majority -- if at all -- there is no way that any of his competitors can pull it off.