Alabama, the Devil Fools With the Best Laid Plan

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 9 2012 9:45 AM

Alabama, the Devil Fools With the Best Laid Plan

Alabama might be the least-polled key state of the primary thus far. Forty-seven delegates are at stake. Only two surveys have been conducted, with less than 1000 total voters. We don't have a great line on who will win; we don't know if Mitt Romney's dream of winning a Southern state will actually work here.

But how much does it matter? On election day Alabama assigns 47 delegates. Twenty-six delegates will be assigned proportionately to anyone earning more than 20 percent. Given the strength of Gingrich and Santorum, it's likely that they and Romney will crack 20 percent. Let's say both Gingrich and Santorum both barely get 20 percent, and Santorum wins the remaining vote in a rout. He gets 16 delegates to their five and five. Same rule applies to the congressional districts. The upshot: In 2008, Mike Huckabee won Alabama but only netted 7 delegates over Mitt Romney.

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And this is the not-Romney's dilemma. Unless he's crushed somewhere -- somewhere that's not Kansas, where he's possibly doomed -- he maintains a lead of nearly 300 delegates going into April. Then, finally, states start holding winner-take-all contests. Perhaps the not-Romney can hold out until May, when Texas votes, and June, when California votes.

But it's tough. The best hope Santorum has comes if Newt Gingrich eats pavement in Alabama/Mississippi and drops out before Illinois and Louisiana. He's said he won't.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.