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Rick Santorum Has Finally Realized That Every State's Primary System Is 'Different'

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Byron York has a piece up today about Rick Santorum's campaign and its "new delegate math" that really doesn't expand too much on all of the reports on the "new delegate math" that everyone reported on last week. (To review, Santorum believes he's much closer to Romney in the delegate count than is currently being reported; his case hinges on Florida and Arizona being compelled to distribute their delegates proportionally, and the Santorum campaign's ability to max out its delegate-wrangling at any number of forthcoming delegate conventions in states across the country.) What does seem to be new, however, is that the Santorum campaign appears to finally understand that the process by which each state awards delegates is, you know, pretty complicated!

"Here's one of the things that I can tell you I didn't know," Santorum told a small group of reporters at a breakfast in Washington on Monday. "Every single state is different. Every state. Every single state is different. It's different on how you get on the ballot. It's different on their structure, how they allocate delegates, whether they are bound, whether they are unbound, when they're committed, how long they committed, how they're selected. Our math is actually based on the reality of what's going on in the states."

There was probably no better precipitating event for this realization than the recently concluded Louisiana primary. Santorum won this contest in a 20-point blowout, and big blowouts translate into large delegate hauls, right? Not in Louisiana. There, only 20 of the state's 46 delegates were at stake the night of the vote, and Romney, having cleared a 25 percent popular vote threshold, will take a share of that tally. On top of that, Louisiana's allocation rules were so obscure and unique that just about every single one of us who wrote curtain-raisers on the primary, myself included, got it wrong. (See Mark Blumenthal's post on the Louisiana primary for details.)

The larger point here is that Romney's close win in Ohio has not been remotely offset by Santorum's win in Louisiana, in terms of post-vote delegate allocation. But remember that this is a product of Santorum running a campaign on little more than spit and chicken bones, before you say, "The Mark Penn 2008 Follies ride again!" Santorum, on his own, does a lot of things right, but his low-budget operation greatly impacts his campaign's ability to tend to the nuts and bolts of such matters as ballot access, delegate-wrangling, and primary process scrutinizing.

It's also why his "delegate math" argument -- which York rightly notes is not so much a "path to the nomination" argument as it is a "here's how we deny Romney the nomination" argument -- is based little more than on faint hopes. As York reports:

In a long conversation Wednesday evening, John Yob, the campaign's national and state convention director, pointed out that many high-profile primaries have been little more than beauty contests, and that delegates in many key states are actually being awarded in county, district, and state conventions, which are often dominated by conservative activists. "In that process, we are doing very well," said Yob. "The moderate candidate almost never performs better than a conservative candidate in a county, district, or state convention process."

Is Santorum actually "doing very well" in that process? It's hard to know. As York notes, "Many states are just now starting their conventions." I suppose that Santorum is in a state of "doing very well," until events demonstrate that he isn't. But in one instance I can point to, this isn't the case: Missouri -- where the Santorum campaign got worked by the Romney-Ron Paul alliance.

Over at NBC News' First Read, there's no sign that anyone's bought into Santorum's delegate math argument, and so it has declared Wisconsin to be the venue of Santorum's last stand. If that's true, that's unfortunate, because Santorum is likely to lose that state. I don't think that's true if Santorum is committed to simply denying Romney the nomination. And I'm prepared for the possibility that John Yob pulls off the greatest delegate-wrangling act in history. But if you ask me to choose between First Read's absolutism and the Santorum's gossamer math, then I'm sidling up to the former.

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