It is a fascinating world when two states in the Deep South with Republican voting populations 75 and 80 percent comprised of Evangelical Christians give victories to a staunch Roman Catholic. It signals a fungibility of religiosity that makes the devout of one faith OK with the devout of another. We're obviously talking here about Mississippi and Alabama, two states that a generation or two ago would have just as soon not voted than vote for a Catholic but who this year gave pluralities to Rick Santorum.
It's also interesting that while Evangelicals will vote for a Catholic these days, there is still a reservoir of intolerance for Mormons. In fact, many Evangelical voters have no problems voting for Newt Gingrich who, although Catholic, could not be classified as anything approaching a saint in his personal life. Mitt Romney has had no end of trouble winning in Evangelical districts but that's not the real story here.
The media trumpets were blaring at full bore last week about Santorum's supposed trouncing of Romney. Although Romney came in third in those two aforementioned contests in the heart of Dixie, because they were proportional primaries, Romney picked up a pretty fair number of delegates from those states and wasn't terribly far behind Messers. Santorum and Gingrich by percentage or popular vote. Most of the media all but ignored the fact that Romney took the Hawaii primary and the contest in American Somoa. The media conveniently overlooked that Alabama's contest was an "open primary," meaning that anyone could vote in it whether you're a Republican or not and that in these kinds of contests Democrats have been going for Santorum in a big way to hurt Romney's chances of facing President Obama in November. It's not a true reflection of Republican sentiment.
The Santorum people and the media would like you to believe that this is still a tight contest for the GOP nomination. From an actuarial, statistical and probability standpoint, it probably isn't. Let's look at the current numbers and at the races ahead:
All the primaries and caucuses until April 1st award delegates on a proportional basis. Even if Romney were to come in second or third, he picks up delegates. Right now Romney has a projected 492 delegates out of 1,144 needed to secure the nomination. Santorum has 235. Gingrich and Ron Paul are far behind. Santorum needs resounding victories in the proportional delegate contests and majorities in the winner-take-all states even to catch up to Romney. Is this even possible?
On the 20th Illinois votes for 69 delegates. Look for a Romney win in the urbanized and suburban north of the state. On the 24th Lousiana's 46 delegates are up for grabs. Romney should do well there or split fairly evenly with Santorum and Gingrich.
In April, with nearly all races "winner-take-all," Romney has a royal flush of opportunity. On April 3 there is Washington D.C., Maryland and Wisconsin -- not Evangelical heartlands. Ninety-eight delegates in play there. On April 24th there is another "Super Tuesday," or "Big East Tournament" in the form of primaries in Connecticut (28 delegates), Delaware (17), New York (95), Pennsylvania (72) and Rhode Island (19). Look for Romney to take everything in the "Big East" except Pennsylvania. How can Santorum surmount all that? Not very likely. Other big states like California (172 delegates) and New Jersey will go to Romney. It is mathematically nearly impossible for Santorum to overtake the former Massachusetts Governor.
Romney currently has been winning 54 percent of the delegates on average. He's also garnered 40.5 percent of the national popular vote in the primaries to Santorum's 24.9 percent. All Romney has to do is proceed at the same exact pace and come June he'll assuredly be the nominee.
There is the possibility that Romney won't be able to win on the first ballot, coming up 100 or so delegates short. This is where the electoral wild card comes into play -- listen for talk of a Romney-Santorum ticket, mimicking the Reagan-Bush ticket of a few decades back which brought the conservative and moderate-establishment wings of the party together successfully and overcame a sitting one-term Democratic president. You heard it here first.