Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum accomplished two important wins in the Deep South on Tuesday – one in Alabama and the other in Mississippi – that denied front-runner Mitt Romney the opportunity to finish up the nasty GOP primary fight. While Romney’s aides publicly state that it would take an “act of God” for Santorum to win the nomination, it is actually more plausible than they would have you believe.
With Newt Gingrich’s second place finishes in Alabama and Mississippi – states that he recently said that he must win – his campaign’s path forward it unclear at best. Indeed it would take an act of God for Gingrich to become the Republican nominee. The same cannot be said of Santorum, though, who despite trailing Romney by roughly 200 delegates could quickly catch up to him at the convention. Consider this scenario:
The Republicans enter their convention in Tampa without a candidate holding a clear majority of delegates – a requirement for winning the nomination. The first round of ballots is indecisive. After this point delegates bound to Romney or any other candidate could vote for whomever they please.
Now imagine that Gingrich drops out of the race. Where do his delegates go? Will these conservative, largely Southern delegates go with a former moderate governor from Massachusetts? Highly doubtful, unless Gingrich is enticed by another prize: a slot on the ticket.
This is where Santorum can find a path without entering the convention with a majority of delegates. He wins Gingrich’s endorsement early on, ensuring that his supporters will carry Santorum to victory in places like Texas. Then Santorum cuts a deal with Gingrich giving him a VP slot in exchange for his hundred plus delegates. Adding the delegates won so far by Gingrich and Santorum puts him within striking distance of Romney. Hardly an act of God.