The Santorum Delegate Talk Makes Perfect Sense

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 29 2012 2:34 PM

The Santorum Delegate Talk Makes Perfect Sense

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Last night, as the votes were being tallied in Michigan, Santorum strategist John Brabender sat down to dish out spin. A giant TV screen, playing Fox News commentators, was informing everyone that Mitt Romney had won Michigan. Pay no attention, said Brabender. The media had already botched the coverage once, claiming that Mitt Romney won Iowa when he didn't. (The ensuing Time magazine cover is the "Dewey Defeats Truman" of 2012.)

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"Everybody is taking down lights now, and we don't know how much we won!" said Brabender. "The last count I saw had us winning five districts, at least. Everybody's missing the story. You're looking at the horse race, and we're looking at delegates." For all intents and purposes, Michigan was a Santorum win. "I assure you that, a couple of months ago, there was a strategy meeting at Romney's headquarters, and they had a big map out, and they said, Well, the good news is we don't have to go to Michigan and spend money there. They had to spend millions to eke out a win, and they might not win on delegates."

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This sounded like loser talk. Brabender struggled to stay on message as reporters asked multiple questions about the new Romney "narrative" of victory, and about the (eventually) overhyped "Operation Hilarity" project to scrounge up Democratic votes for Santorum. But the final results in Michigan make it look like Brabender was right.

What does it mean for Santorum? Check the delegate rules for the next states.

Washington: Yet another non-binding caucus, but one that kicks off the delegate selection process. And it votes Saturday.

Alaska: A caucus with proportional delegate selection.

Georgia: A primary with 31 delegates divided proportionately according to the statewide vote, and 42 more divided proportionately by district.

Idaho: A caucus with proportional delegate selection; win more than 50 percent in a district, you win all the delegates.

Massachusetts: A primary with proportional delegate selection. Hit 15 percent and you start getting delegates.

North Dakota: A semi-binding caucus; delegates will be assigned at a state convention in proportion to the candidate preferences expressed in the caucuses.

Ohio: A primary with 15 delegates for the statewide winner and 48 delegates split between congressional districts -- win a district, win 3 delegates.

Oklahoma: A primary with 25 delegates divided up statewide and 15 divided up by congressional district. As in Idaho, if win more than 50 percent in a district, you win the delegates.

Tennesssee: A primary with extremely proportional delegate selection. Any candidate who hits 20 percent statewide gets a delegate. Same goes district-by-district.

Vermont: A primary with 3 delegates for whoever wins statewide and 14 more split between candidates, unless one candidate gets an overall majority.

Virginia: The infamous, Romney-Paul-and-nobody-else primary is winner-take-all by state and congressional district.

You know, I might have saved everyone a lot of time by just pointing this out: There is no winner-take-all primary in this coming week. In every state except Virginia, Santorum has a shot at taking delegates. In Georgia and Tennessee, those reboubts of Gingrichism, Romney and Santorum can win districts and neutralize the speaker's delegate advantage. The most likely outcome of Super Tuesday is not a Romney win. It's a mess.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.