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Rick Santorum Wants You To Know That He Has More Delegates Than You Think He Has, Maybe

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All reported accounts of how many delegates each of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates have won should of course come with caveats. They are, after all, soft numbers that approximate the candidates' totals ahead of the process that's ongoing in several states, where "unbound" delegates that were elected at early caucuses become "bound" delegates through a multi-tiered process of conventions. But how soft are those numbers? Rick Santorum's campaign wants you to know that they are very soft. So soft, in fact, that he's actually not that far behind the frontrunning Mitt Romney at all.

ABC News' Michael Falcone, a former HuffPost Politics editor, got a "sneak peek" at the Santorum campaign's "in-house delegate tally," which maintains that the former Pennsylvania senator is "in a much better position to catch" Romney than conventional wisdom would suggest. At the moment, ABC News' official tally has Romney ahead of Santorum by 521 delegates to 253 -- a doubled-up blowout in the making. However, Santorum's staffers are saying that this race is much closer. To their reckoning, they're only down by 124 delegates -- their estimation gives Romney 435 delegates to Santorum's 311. (Their delegate math also slightly improves Newt Gingrich's standing, while according Ron Paul 41 more delegates than the 50 that ABC News counts for him.)

If you're saying to yourself, "Well, I'd sure like the Santorum campaign to show their work," then don't worry, Falcone's got you covered:

Their delegate equation largely rests on two key assumptions: First, that Arizona and Florida will eventually allocate their delegates proportionally rather than using their current winner-take-all scheme. Second, that delegate tallies in Iowa, Missouri and Washington State should be estimated based upon the preliminary results of ongoing county and district conventions, not on the initial “beauty contest” votes.

The Santorum campaign believes they will receive the vast majority of the delegates in Iowa and Missouri and they are seeing signs of encouragement in Washington State. In King County, which held legislative district caucuses this weekend to choose delegates to send to the state convention later this spring, Santorum netted four delegates, compared to three a piece for Romney and Gingrich and two for Paul.

Well, sure. Some of that stuff could happen. Or Mitt Romney could make it harder on himself to accrue delegates if he goes out for a leisurely walk today and falls into a well, requiring a rescue effort that takes several weeks' time and is complicated by Newt Gingrich traveling to the well and staging a "Lincoln-Douglas debate" with the trapped Romney. ("It is fundamentally unclear whether Governor Romney is a true conservative," argued Gingrich, for several hours. "Please, would somebody just throw down some food," retorted Romney.)

Will Arizona and Florida "eventually allocate their delegates proportionally?" Santorum's delegate whisperer, John Yob, believes that the "RNC is likely to follow their own rules," which implies that the RNC will, at some point, attempt to force those two states out of their current plan. But this is extremely unlikely. The Santorum camp isn't the first to make a stink about the issue. After the Florida primary, Gingrich announced that he'd challenge the Sunshine State's GOP to award their delegates proportionally. The RNC made it pretty clear that he'd be on his own:

"With regard to proportionality, the RNC does not have the authority to intervene in a state’s primary plans beyond the imposition of the Rule 16 penalties," the memo says, referring to the state's loss of half its delegates for moving its primary up to January. "A contest procedure exists for challenges to a state’s delegation or delegates. The RNC cannot consider any issue regarding Florida’s delegation unless and until a proper contest is brought."

An RNC source said that Florida's plan as submitted in the fall said the state would be winner-take-all, and their plan could not be changed.

Even if there were a way to challenge proportionality in Florida, no one in the state party has shown any interest. Lenny Curry, the state GOP chairman, on Thursday painted Gingrich's campaign as a sore loser for making the argument.

If the RNC opts out of intervening, and the states don't initiate their own corrective (which is likely), then this assumed benefit to Santorum won't actually materialize.

The Santorum campaign's on much firmer ground with its latter assumption -- that it could harvest a larger yield of delegates from the state conventions that haven't yet convened. Yob claims that Santorum's campaign has "the upper hand" here, and predicts that he'll benefit at these fora when "more grassroots conservatives" attend. All of which is possible, of course.

However, the key thing to remember here is that Yob has only been on the delegate-wrangling job for about three weeks. His hire, which followed Santorum's near miss in Michigan, was greeted by NBC's First Read crew thusly:

The move signals a newfound interest in, as one adviser put it, "learning the rules." No one in the campaign was dedicated exclusively to delegate strategy previous to Yob.

By contrast, the Ron Paul campaign had mastered these rules many months earlier, and had a campaign that was well-funded enough to execute its delegate strategy. One shouldn't doubt Yob's expertise, of course -- he did the same job for John McCain's 2008 campaign. But the simple fact of the matter is that Santorum has been campaigning on a shoestring budget, and one of the things you sacrifice as a cash-strapped candidate is a robust operation designed to win these delegate battles.

So for the most part, Santorum's delegate math argument is based on little more than hopes and wishes. Why make it? Well, let's remember that tonight is the night of the Illinois primary, in which Santorum is expected to underperform. That makes today a perfect time to suggest that your campaign is actually, secretly, overperforming!

READ THE WHOLE THING:
Santorum Campaign Floats New Delegate Math Showing Much Tighter Race With Romney [ABC News]

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