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Mitt Romney emerges from Super Tuesday’s 10 contests with more state wins – six altogether – and more delegates than any of his rivals.
In fact, he won more than half of the 400-plus delegates up for grabs in one night.
And in case there is any doubt: this contest for the leadership of the Republican party is about winning the most delegates and getting to the magic number of 1,144 delegates to clinch the nomination.
Whatever doubts about the Romney candidacy – and exit polls from Super Tuesday highlighted the ongoing unease among GOP voters towards Mr. Romney’s conservative credentials and whether he truly understands the struggles of ordinary Americans – the former Massachusetts governor still has the clearest path to the nomination.
But who has the money and ground organization to catch up with Mitt Romney?
Every campaign has the fundraising ability to continue competing, winning delegates, and prolonging Mr. Romney’s pain as he tries to get GOP voters to coalesce around his candidacy.
But his lead only offers his rivals a chance at narrowing his advantage rather than overtaking him.
Here is the current delegate math total:
Mr. Romney now has 415 delegates, Rick Santorum 176 delegates, Newt Gingrich 105 delegates and Ron Paul 47 delegates, according to Associated Press.
Given the way Republican parties allocate delegates, most observers believe that lead is insurmountable.
But underlying Mr. Romney’s strength in delegates is a worrying weakness: There are some who argue that, given Mr. Romney’s “crushing financial advantage,” in fact, he should have won even more delegates on Super Tuesday.
“Mitt Romney will exit the ten Super Tuesday contests with more delegates than anyone else, but his political reputation damaged,” writes John Fund of the National Review Online.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Romney campaign and the Super PAC that backs him – Restore Our Future – spent a total of $4-million in ads in Ohio, a state Mr. Romney narrowly won by the slimmest of margins. The vast majority of those ads were attack ads.
The Rick Santorum campaign and the Super PAC that backs him – the Red, White & Blue Fund – spent less than a million.
In other words, Mr. Romney and his supporters outspent their closest competitor Mr. Santorum 4 to 1. The outcome they got in Ohio: a 38 per cent to 37 per cent finish in the popular vote, with just over 10,000 votes separating the two candidates in a primary where more than 1.1 million people voted.
Mr. Romney’s campaign and Super PAC supporters have much deeper pockets than any of his rivals.
In the past week, the pro-Romney Super PAC spent more than $1.5-million, the pro-Santorum Super PAC spent just over $300,000, while the pro-Gingrich Super Pac spent nearly $700,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.
Each campaign has relied on wealthy backers.
The Romney campaign and pro-Romney Super PAC has tapped Wall Street millionaires. Mr. Gingrich and pro-Gingrich Super PAC has relied on Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his contributions of $5-million at a time. Mr. Santorum’s campaign and pro-Santorum Super PAC has relied on the contributions of millionaire financier and social conservative Foster Friess.
But what the Santorum campaign has been able to demonstrate is that even with less money it is still able to use its money strategically and influence the outcome of key contests. Mr. Santorum may not have won the Michigan and Ohio primaries, but he highlighted his appeal to blue collar workers and social conservatives while showcasing Mr. Romney’s vulnerabilities.
Ground organization and discipline is another matter.
The Santorum and Gingrich campaigns demonstrated how a poor ground game can leave you out of the delegates hunt. In Virginia, neither campaign was able to get its candidate on the ballot. And in Ohio, Mr. Santorum was not eligible for 18 of the 66 delegates because the paper work was not filed on time.
And Mr. Santorum did himself few favours ahead of the Michigan primary when he called President Obama a “snob” for pushing the importance of a college education.
But here is something to keep in mind about Mr. Santorum: he is effectively leveraging his wins and the momentum that accompanies those wins to raise money.
The February campaign finance disclosures have not yet been released. But Mr. Santorum reportedly raised $9-million in February alone, twice what he raised in January.
A close Ohio finish will only add to his pitch when tries to fundraise following Super Tuesday. With more money and organization, he will argue, he can beat Mr. Romney.
For the Romney campaign, there is no rest in the fundraising department.
For every dollar it raised in January, it spent three, according to federal documents. Of course, the campaign has built up a massive war chest, and so far the candidate has not had to tap his own estimated $200-million fortune.
As for Mr. Gingrich, there will be talk – in spite of his Super Tuesday night speech that he will carry on in state contests in Kansas on Saturday, in Mississippi and Alabama next Tuesday, and beyond – that he is hurting a viable conservative alternative to Mr. Romney from emerging. But ego and money will likely keep him going.
A final word on candidate Ron Paul: his fundraising prowess is not to be underestimated. He raised as much money as Mr. Santorum in January, $4.5-million. Most of those donations were in amounts of $200 or less. He may not be winning states, but he can raise money and continue competing.
It may take Mr. Romney until June to finally reach the 1,144 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination, but he will spend tens of millions to get there.
An extreme scenario would be that by the time the last state holds its contest in June, there are still four candidates in the GOP race, and no one has reached the magic number of 1,144.
Then, it is on to Tampa Bay, for the Republican party’s first contested, or brokered convention, since 1976.