Texas or Bust: Santorum Campaign Reveals Its Delegate Strategy

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 20 2012 1:11 PM

Texas or Bust: Santorum Campaign Reveals Its Delegate Strategy

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DIXON, IL - MARCH 19: Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks during a campaign rally on March 19, 2012 in Dixon, Illinois. Illinois residents will go to the polls on March 20 to vote their choice for the Republican presidential nominee. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

"There's a lot of people out there," said Rick Santorum's spokesman J. Hogan Gidley, "making a lot of claims about the mathematics."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Thus began a 55-minute conference call, announced about an hour before start time, with one goal: Get reporters to cover Rick Santorum's math instead of the media's own. According to CNN's delegate calculator, for example, this is how the delegates awarded so far should break between the candidates.

Romney - 520
Santorum - 239
Gingrich - 138
Paul - 69
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According to Santorum's campaign, this is the real math.

Romney - 435
Santorum - 311
Gingrich - 158
Paul - 91

It's the difference between a race that Romney is clearly winning and a jump ball campaign that Santorum could pull out in May or June. "Over the weekend," explained Santorum delegate-counter-in-chief John Yob, "we believe we netted 80 delegates."

How were they doing it? While the dopey media was chasing Mitt Romney around Illinois and writing new and thrilling versions of Peoria jokes, hardy Santorum volunteers were showing up at county conventions and winning. "The open [Iowa] caucus from January literally has no bearing," said Yob. "The county conventions last weekend do have bearing." And according to them, the Santorum campaign -- and to a lesser extent, the Paul campaign -- was cleaning up in the county conventions.

In Iowa, sure. But how was Santorum doing in Missouri? The non-binding February primary in that state (which, for the record, the Santorum campaign did not shoo reporters away from covering) left Santorum with 55 percent of the vote, and wins in every county. But a hyper-organized Ron Paul campaign, and a well-enough-organized Romney campaign, had taken Boone and Greene counties away from Santorum. A kind of meltdown had scuttled the St. Charles County caucus on Saturday.

"You just named the only counties where that's been the case," said Yob.

But this was not just some call about a "delegate strategy." Pay no attention to how Illinois, in a few hours, would probably hand a big popular vote and delegate win to Romney.

"There is a path for us to get 1,114," said Yob. "Overperforming in the county, district, and state conventions, like took place in Iowa, like took place in Missouri, like seems to be taking place in Washington... therefore gaining significant delegates. Then, in May, overperforming very well in contests such as Arkansas, Kentucky, etc, leading up to Texas. Winning Texas. Coming out of Texas with momentum for the final contests."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.