THE BLOG

Santorum's Hail Mary

03/22/2012 08:29 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2012

The climb to the summit continues to get steeper for Santorum, as he struggles to gain enough consistent momentum to take the nomination before (or even at) the convention in Tampa later this summer. Clearly, a miracle or two will need to take place, as the narrative and mathematics continue to move in Romney's favor, with Romney now holding a 300-delegate lead over Santorum. So, even with the cards stacked against him, what could potentially reverse Santorum's fate? And, how likely (or unlikely) are these game-changing events to happen?

Looking at the delegate math certainly presents a grim picture for the anti-Romney contenders. With around 1,270 of the 2,288 delegates remaining, Romney only needs to secure just south of 50 percent (~600 delegates) in order to become the nominee prior to the GOP convention. According to a recent article from NYT's Nate Silver, the soonest Romney could seal the deal is May 22, after the Arkansas and Kentucky primaries, but that is unlikely (he would need to win 95 percent of the delegates, and, as Silver mentions, receive endorsements by all of the Party's 77 undecided superdelegates).

However, Silver goes on to say that it's a lot more likely Romney will clinch the nomination by June 5, or shortly thereafter, assuming the "remaining states play out according to their demographics." Needless to say, it truly will be a 4th quarter, 95-yard, into the wind pass that the Santorum team will need to pull off down the stretch. But for the sake of argument, here are a couple fantasy plays that could cause a minor threat to Romney's late-game lead, or at the very least, help Santorum move a few more yards down the field:

A Santorum-Gingrich "bromance" seems like the most rational scenario to unite the conservative base and threaten the Romney train. After all, Gingrich has made it very clear that he is staying in the race through the convention because he believes Romney will be a weak nominee and unelectable against President Obama (he often paints a picture of Romney and President Obama debating about their competing health care reform packages). It seems only natural then for Gingrich, who took a dismal single digit finish in Illinois, to back Santorum if his end goal really is to beat Romney. But, rational isn't Gingrich's middle name for a reason and there are certainly no hints that Gingrich will ditch his "unconventional" campaign to endorse anyone before the convention. However, in the slight chance of a "civil union," the combination of their voting blocs could potentially propel Santorum a few points above Romney in national polls (as of March 21, Gallup has Romney at 38 percent, Santorum at 27 percent, and Gingrich at 14 percent).

Beyond a "bromance," Santorum would need to promote and capture a conservative upswell (a la Iowa), fueled by the base of the party that is continually reminded of Romney's unacceptability due to major gaffes, almost daily, and his inability to connect. Just this week Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said their campaign will "hit a reset button for the fall," and went further by comparing it to an "Etch A Sketch." "You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again." The possibility of a conservative movement is a fantasy at best, but it could perhaps give Santorum the stamina he needs to compete in the remaining primary states.

No matter what direction the primary takes, by some stroke of luck or divine intervention, it will be essential for Santorum to win his home state of Pennsylvania. And beyond that, he needs to win at least 74 percent of the delegates in the remaining primaries, including the big states like California, New York, and Texas, where he is now showing a very weak second. So far Santorum has only won 27 percent of delegates, a far cry away from where he needs to be going forward. With a weak organization (Santorum is not on the D.C. ballot, a winner take all primary next month) and a limited amount of cash (apparently the Santorum campaign only spent $14,000 on staff last month), Santorum's little-engine-that-could needs more than just a "think he can" approach.

Unfortunately for Santorum and the conservative base, the chances of any of these scenarios, or miracles, coming to fruition are about as likely as Rush Limbaugh supporting President Obama. No matter the outcome, Santorum has been a strong and effective advocate for his ideology and those that support him. Even if unsuccessful, he has furthered his point of view in the minds of Americans and will continue to be a voice for the GOP and the country. After all, Santorum has come a long way against the Romney money and endorsement machine. It seems like just yesterday that the sweater vest-sporting candidate was a wide receiver on the debate stage, yet now he's vying for quarterback. Santorum, time to go for the end zone