04/04/2012 02:08 pm ET

Rick Santorum's Pennsylvania Delegates Uncertain Even With Popular Vote Win

Rick Santorum's campaign has placed its hopes squarely on the Pennsylvania primary on April 24, after a near shutout in terms of delegates in Tuesday night's primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

While winning the Pennsylvania primary may be critical for the momentum of Santorum's presidential campaign, a win in his home state won't necessarily do anything to help him garner more delegates.

Delegates chosen in the Keystone State's primary are not bound to support any candidate, said Valerie Caras, communications director for the Republican Party of Pennsylvania.

Potential delegate candidates can try to inform voters that they intend "to bind themselves to a particular candidate," Caras said. "But they are considered to be unpledged or unbound and free to vote for whomever they choose when they get to the floor."

A well-organized presidential campaign would likely conduct two separate campaigns in Pennsylvania: One to win delegates to its side and another campaign to educate supporters about which delegates to pick on election day.

Bob Asher, as one of the state's national committee members, is one of three Pennsylvania super delegates. He's also a Romney supporter. Asher told the Morning Call that, "Based upon what I have heard, I think Gov. Romney will likely win the majority of the delegates in Pennsylvania."

The Romney campaign declined to release a list of delegates in Pennsylvania who they believe will support the former governor, but Reps. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) are both running to be national convention delegates, and both have come out in support of Romney.

Romney's campaign directly targeted delegates in Illinois to take a lion's share in that state. Romney walked away on March 20 with only 46.7 percent of the popular vote, but 76 percent of the available delegates.

Delegates with strong name recognition like State Treasurer Dan Rutherford won in rural parts of Illinois where Santorum carried the popular vote.

Campaign organization once again comes into play in these states with unbound delegates. Romney started collecting delegates in Pennsylvania back in 2011 when Santorum had a far smaller campaign, according to the Morning Call.

Santorum supporter State Sen. Jake Corman (R-34) said the Santorum campaign did court potential delegates to get them to commit to the former Pennsylvania senator.

"The problem is, when you're running a low-budget campaign, you have to focus on the states in front of you, not 20 states in front of you," Corman told Morning Call.

Caras of the state GOP pointed out that while delegates can promise their support to one candidate or another, but they are not bound by party law to keep those promises when they get to the convention in August.

"If we should get to a contested floor decision, I think it could make the Pennsylvania delegates some of the most important delegates on the floor, because they are not bound by a decision made months ago," Caras said.

The delegates' open-endedness could be the very thing that puts Romney over the top -- or brings him up short. It's a point the Romney campaign has already been thinking about.

A campaign staffer said, "We went through and we worked really hard to identify people who would back Romney, and people who would be supportive of the party and would support party unity. I'm very confident we have those supporters available for each and every spot on primary day."