While Romney had a good night on Super Tuesday, the truth is that he did nothing to alter the basic regional nature of his support. He won handily in New England and the West, essentially tied in the Midwest, and ran poorly in the South.
Given the structure of the primary season, this portends a long slog to the nomination, and makes it difficult for Romney to wrap up the nomination early on. Consider the schedule, and the following possible outcomes:
The rest of this month is absolutely brutal for Romney.
Great Plains: Kansas. Assume Santorum wins here by a margin roughly equal to that in North Dakota, and wins all the state’s districts except for the 3rd (Kansas City).
South: Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana. This could go either way between Gingrich and Santorum. Let’s assume that these states have roughly the results of Tennessee, while acknowledging that they could look like Georgia. Romney will probably still win the Birmingham districts in Alabama and the New Orleans districts in Louisiana, but other than that will likely be shut out.
Midwest: Illinois, Missouri. I think the former is fertile ground for Romney, but let’s assume that it is close, like Michigan and Ohio. We’ll have him split the districts 10/8. It’s hard to see Romney running any better in Missouri’s caucuses than he did in the primary, so let’s give the caucuses to Santorum with the same margins as North Dakota.
West: Hawaii. Give this to Romney, at the same rate as Alaska.
Miscellaneous: Northern Marianas, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico. Anyone’s guess. Let’s divide evenly among the candidates. Puerto Rico is winner-take-all, so give that to Romney (who has run well with Latinos so far this cycle).
Note that Romney wins only two contests in actual states under this scenario. That is a serious momentum-sapper. Gingrich may have dropped out by this point, or become a non-factor, but since his votes probably go to Santorum, it's probably not relevant to our Romney-centric analysis here.
Rough delegate totals: Romney, 522; Santorum, 314; Gingrich 128; Paul 91.
Northeast: Maryland, D.C., New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware. Obviously, this is a nice stretch for Romney. There are some question marks here: Who is voting in the Republican primary in Jose Serrano’s 95 percent Obama district in New York? Anyway, we will model New York, D.C., and Maryland after Vermont; Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware more like Massachusetts (understanding that we’re probably being too generous to Romney with the latter and not generous enough with the former).
Midwest: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. Again, assume Wisconsin is similar to Ohio, basically a tie. I think Santorum probably wins Pennsylvania.
Rough delegate totals : Romney, 704; Santorum, 389; Gingrich, 132; Paul 101
South: Texas, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas. We’ll model the last three like Tennessee, though Santorum could run even better in these three than he did in the Volunteer State. The other two are anybody’s guess. Since I’d been so generous to Romney in the Northeast, I went ahead and modeled these like Tennessee. But given the strong Republican Party establishment, as well as the surfeit of wealthy suburban districts in both states, Romney really could over-perform. We’ll hedge somewhat by giving Romney 50 percent of the congressional districts in Texas, which assumes that he runs well in the suburban districts as well as the Latino districts, but that the relatively low turnout in the latter districts costs him the statewide win.
Midwest: Indiana. Modeled like Ohio/Michigan.
Great Plains: Nebraska. Modeled like North Dakota.
West: Oregon. Modeled like Washington state, though it isn’t as urbanized, and Romney could have a tougher time here.
Rough delegate totals : Romney, 845; Santorum, 575; Paul 183; Gingrich, 161.
Note that we’re almost done with primary season, and Romney only has three-fourths of the delegates he needs.
There are only six contests left at this point: California, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, New Mexico and Utah. New Jersey and Utah are obviously Romney-friendly, while South Dakota and Montana are Santorum-friendly. California is probably Romney-friendly, as is, probably, New Mexico, but California divvies up almost all of its delegates by congressional district.
I’ve said this before, but who is voting in a Republican primary in Maxine Waters’ district? I honestly have no clue whom they would favor -- and there are a lot of districts like this in California. The whites who vote in the Central Valley districts are culturally similar to Southern whites, and the mountain districts are awfully conservative as well. We’ll give Romney 42 districts, but this is probably giving him too much benefit of the doubt.
So what’s the bottom line here? Romney ends up with 1,071 delegates, still short of the nomination. Now, there are a few important caveats. First, there are 114 unpledged RNC delegates, who can vote for anyone. Second, there are another 86 delegates in states that have already voted that have yet to be allocated. Romney will probably get somewhere between a third and half of these delegates.
So a brokered convention is still a long shot, but (1) note how long it takes Romney to get into range; and (2) recall that we’ve perhaps been too generous with Romney in our delegate allocations in New York, Texas and California, especially after the brutal March he is likely about to have.