02/23/2012 11:51 am ET Updated Apr 24, 2012

Deadlock in Tampa

Could the GOP be facing a deadlock in Tampa? Is it possible no one will have the votes on the first ballot?

Could the party turn to a compromise candidate like Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush or Donald Trump? This week I took a tumbler of vodka, a calculator, a delegate count and a calendar and after two hours I concluded it could happen.

The rise of Rick Santorum in both the national and state polls is producing the likely scenario that the GOP primary will head into the Tampa convention August 27th without a candidate clinching the nomination after the first round of voting. In order to win the GOP nomination, a candidate must have 1,144 delegates pledge their support. Under RNC rules, the delegate count builds slowly: just 15% before Super Tuesday, March 6; 19% through Super Tuesday (brings you to 34%); 17% in the rest of March (brings you to 51%); with 48% in April, May and June (21%, 12%, 15%). With the back-loaded primary schedule that delays the largest states of New York (95 delegates, April 24th), Texas (155 delegates, earliest possible date is May 29th) and California (172 delegates, June 5th), there is no likely scenario that has any of the GOP nominees clinching the nomination on the first ballot.

On February 7th in anticipation of Rick Santorum's Colorado-Minnesota-Missouri trifecta, Romney's campaign released a memo stating that it was the only campaign with the money and organization to win the "the methodical, long-haul campaign ahead." However, the other campaigns do indeed have the resources to compete ahead. Rick Santorum's surge in the polls has brought record fundraising numbers along with another $10 million commitment from Foster Friess to Santorum's Super Pac. Sheldon Adelson just gave Newt Gingrich's Super Pac another $10 million this last week. Adelson will continue to finance Gingrich so Gingrich "draws off conservative and evangelical voters from Mr. Santorum" because Adelson "doesn't share the former Pennsylvania senator's socially conservative positions, including his strong anti-abortion views."

Ron Paul's campaign has long centered on a "complex plan to force a long battle with Mitt Romney for delegates to the Republican National Convention in August." Paul's ability to organize in the caucuses and supporters enthusiasm cannot be understated -- as he continues to siphon delegates away from Romney, who is also depending on the caucuses to secure the nomination -- and is played out in Maine where the Texas congressman lost to the Massachusetts governor in the New England caucus by only 156 votes.

The Michigan and Arizona primaries this February 28th could be the greatest indicator yet that a brokered convention is likely. If Santorum continues his surge by winning Michigan with the Tea Party-Evangelical-Working Class vote while Romney wins Arizona due to the large Mormon populace and seniors, the brokered convention becomes extremely likely as the GOP primary will turn into a race divided by regional preferences -- Santorum carrying the Midwest, Gingrich parts of the South and Romney performing in the Northeast and West, which are dominated by moderates and senior voters. However, should Santorum win both Arizona and Michigan -- a scenario not unlikely, with his large lead in Michigan and Romney's Arizona campaign being mired in controversy over the resignation of his state co-chair Sheriff Paul Babeu amid allegations of misconduct by his ex-boyfriend, who is an illegal immigrant -- Santorum may in fact be guaranteed a place on the national ticket. Lastly, Public Policy Polling released an Arizona poll on February 20, but reported via Twitter "The first night of our polling in Arizona was pretty much a tie between Romney and Santorum."

The Santorum Surge

Rick Santorum's surge has put the Romney campaign in its most perilous situation to date. As opposed to the past two Gingrich surges -- in November/December when Romney scorched Gingrich in Iowa with negative ads -- and after Gingrich's South Carolina victory -- where Romney followed in Florida by running 65 ads for every one Gingrich ran -- Rick Santorum's surge in the polls continues to increase both nationally and in crucial states since the Colorado-Minnesota-Missouri trifecta. Santorum led Romney in the Gallup 2012 tracking poll released on February 17th 35%-29%. This is a troubling indicator for Romney, as he led Gingrich in Gallup 31%-26% after his Florida win on February 1st, but now in the same sampling has his support consistently in the 30% range -- yet is once again facing a Conservative-Evangelical-Tea Party candidate who could break into the 40%s.

Santorum's national lead was confirmed by Rasmussen Reports' February 15th poll which showed Santorum leading in the primary 39% to Romney with 27% followed by Gingrich at 15% and Paul at 10%. However, while Romney beat Gingrich 47% to 38% one on one and Paul 47% to 42% -- Rasmussen Reports found that "Santorum now trounces Romney 55% to 34% in a one-on-one matchup among likely GOP primary voters. This is the first time any challenger has led Romney nationally in a head-to-head match-up." Scott Rasmussen, in a February 17th column titled "Numbers Suggest Santorum Could Be Romney's Worst Nightmare," comments that Santorum's head to head 21-point lead against Romney "is new... None of the earlier Romney alternatives could manage better than a toss-up in such a contest." Further:

[The] numbers show that Santorum picks up 16 points when other candidates drop out. Romney adds just 7 to his column. Santorum makes huge gains among conservative voters when others drop out of the race. Among non-conservatives, Santorum and Romney gain roughly equal amounts. For the first time, the numbers show that if one of Romney's challengers drops out, the other challenger will overwhelmingly benefit. Gingrich supporters, by a three-to-one margin, would vote for Santorum over Romney if that was the final choice.

Santorum was also leading in the Michigan primary over Romney 35%-32% as of February 15 according to Rasmussen Reports, 34%-25% according to Michigan-based Mitchell Research and 43%-33% according to Inside Michigan Politics where Bill Ballenger stated in the release:

There is very little good news in this survey for Mitt Romney. Like George W. Bush who hoped the Michigan primary would be his firewall, Michigan could be a fireball for Romney. The problem for Romney is not Democrats crossing over to vote, but Tea Party supporters who back Santorum 51 percent to Romney's 22 percent.

Santorum is also exploiting his working class-populist tone to a large lead in the critical state of Ohio -- which the Republicans must carry in 2008 to defeat Barack Obama. Rasmussen Reports released a survey on February 16th with Santorum leading Romney 42%-24% in the Buckeye state whose March 6th primary is a winner-take-all of the 66 delegates. With Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine switching his Romney endorsement to Santorum in a nationally covered announcement in the Statehouse this past Friday, Santorum is poised to follow a Michigan victory with Ohio which will cement his front runner status.

Further, the Obama campaign clearly views Santorum as a potential opponent. The Obama campaign confirmed the Chicago-based organization:

has begun combing through Santorum's background looking for possible lines of attack. It also e-mailed Obama's Pennsylvania supporters this past week asking for material that could be used against Santorum in upcoming speeches and ads. 'Circumstances have changed,' explained Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter.

Santorum coyly attacked Obama on Saturday in Ohio by stating Obama's agenda is based on "some phony theology. Not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology," which will drive up his support among GOP primary voters and could damage Obama's favorability ratings much like you did with the birth certificate.

The Romney Demise

It cannot be understated how devastating a loss in Michigan will be for Romney. Romney not only grew up in Michigan, he is the son of a former governor. He carried the state in 2008 as the conservative alternative to McCain and now will be mired as the Dole-McCain establishment moderate. A Michigan loss will all but guarantee Romney an Ohio loss to Santorum and Georgia loss to Gingrich -- which means Romney will also be out over 166 delegates to rivals.

He has lost the electability argument as well. A February 16th Democracy Corps Poll finds that Romney:

may be on the edge of political death. The shift against him is one of the biggest in the polls and he now competes with Republicans in Congress for unpopularity. In the summer of 1996, Bob Dole essentially was disqualified in voters' eyes and never really recovered his footing.

Further, a new CNN/ORC International poll finds that 53% of independents have an unfavorable view of Romney, compared with 44% last month. Further, a new Des Moines Iowa Poll released February 18th shows Obama losing Iowa not only to Romney by a slim 46%-44% margin, but also losing to Santorum by 48%-44% and Ron Paul by 49%-42%.

Given Obama's current approval ratings and consensus forecasts on the economy, he rates as about a 60 percent favorite to win the popular vote against Mitt Romney according to Nate Silver, with somewhat higher chances against any of the other Republicans running for the nomination. By contrast, in the November version of the model, Mr. Obama was an underdog to Mr. Romney, with a 40 percent chance of winning; the president's approval ratings were about six points lower then and economic forecasts were somewhat more pessimistic.

Romney's frontrunner strategy is completely out of touch with the reality of the 2012 GOP electorate. As Dan Schnur, an aide to McCain's 2000 presidential bid who directs the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles explains:

Through very little fault of his own, Romney is the front-runner, but he's probably the weakest Republican front-runner in the history of the party. He just had the bad timing to run for president at a time when the party establishment had much less influence over the nominating process.

Further, Romney's Mormon faith is a negative factor. After Elie Wiesel's relatives recently appeared on a Mormon baptism list, Wiesel publicly called on Romney "speak to his own church and say they should stop." This is a losing issue for Romney -- you do not want to be in a public fight with the most celebrated Holocaust survivor in the world. The Jewish vote will certainly not support Romney in the general should he be the nominee.

With the rise of the Tea Party, multiple challengers keep rising to campaign as the un-Romney in the race, with Santorum now holding that position. He continues to attack his rivals with negative advertisements. While scorching his rival, this also makes Romney's favorability ratings spiral:

Politics is personal. People vote for a guy who they either like or they trust to do the job well. Romney scores high on the latter category, but as the season wears on he's looking less and less like a regular Joe. The sharp increases in Romney's unfavorability ratings have removed the "electability" argument.

Brokered Convention?

There is public talk already by GOP influence peddlers of drafting a new candidate should Santorum win Michigan. Jonathan Karl of ABC News reports on February 17th that a Romney loss in Michigan means a Republican Party needs to go back to the drawing board and convince somebody new to get into the race according to an unnamed senator. The senator believes that if Romney loses Michigan but wins the nomination "We'd get killed in the general. He'd be too damaged," he said. "If he can't even win in Michigan, where his family is from, where he grew up."

A Politico report quotes "a tippy-top Republican" stating:

If somebody came on the scene that week after Super Tuesday with, 'I'm coming in. I'm taking a look at this,' there are enough delegates. He would suck all the oxygen out of the race. People wouldn't even give a sh*t who won on these other dates in March that are after Super Tuesday. I mean, seriously, who would care? It would all be about a new savior.

Even after February 28th, the FEC deadlines for ballot access make it possible for another candidate to emerge who will force a brokered convention. The states of California (March 23), Montana (March 12), New Jersey (April 2), New Mexico (March 16) and South Dakota (March 27) all have March deadlines that allow a candidate to emerge.

Jeb Bush is certainly exploring this option. Despite being recruited by Romney and offered a National Chair position in the campaign, Bush remained neutral in the Florida primary. Jeb did not stay neutral due to Romney's lack of trying -- Romney "made phone calls, traded e-mails and met privately to try to win over Mr. Bush. The campaign was poised to make him a national co-chairman, a role Mr. Bush would have shared with Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, but several Republicans familiar with the offer say it was declined." Further, Jeb has quietly been holding fundraisers and events across the country. On February 2nd, Jeb "addressed 600 attendees at the county Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting at the Hanover Marriot Hotel in Whippany... (and) spoke about Christie's signature issue in Christie's home county, and the place where the Governor cut his political teeth." During the CPAC weekend, Bush held events in Utah and California.

Sarah Palin has already talked publicly about the possibility of a brokered convention. On Fox News she even stated, "Months from now, if that's the case, all bets are off as to who it will be willing to offer up themselves... in service to their country. I would do whatever I could to help."

Former Utah Senator Robert Bennett wrote this past February 13th in the Deseret News:

the possibility of a completely new candidate emerging -- Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Condi Rice, Donald Trump, whoever once seemed unlikely but now is a distinct possibility. It would be a spectacle like no other, and the imagination runs wild...A brokered convention truly would be high drama. Those dreaming about it assume that it would produce the nominee of those dreams.