GOP presidential race seems close, but Mitt Romney has the numbers

Political campaigns are about heart and soul, but in the end it's the numbers that count. Mitt Romney clearly is ahead in the delegate count, and one prominent Republican says "this thing is about over."

Rogelio V. Solis/AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at the Mississippi Farmers Market in Jackson, Miss., Friday, March 9, 2012.

In some ways, Mitt Romney is the Rodney Dangerfield among presidential candidates. He certainly gets “no respect” from his GOP rivals.

Rick Santorum calls him a “very desperate” man who “reinvents himself for whatever the political occasion calls for."

Newt Gingrich, ever the history professor, says Romney is “probably the weakest Republican front-runner since Leonard Wood." (Bonus points for knowing that Leonard Wood was the Army general who lost the GOP nomination to Warren G. Harding in 1920. He did have a US Army fort in Missouri named for him, however.)

Press reporting continues to dwell on Romney’s short-comings as a candidate as well – his Richie Rich persona, his cringe-worthy attempts to seem folksy (a new-found appetite for southern biscuits and cheesy grits), the distance rightward he’s traveled since his days as a moderate Republican, his failure as front-runner to deliver a “knockout blow” – a favorite phrase of headline writers after Super Tuesday.

And, besides, the worst thing in the world for political pundits would be to have the GOP nominating race over and eight months to go until the election.

RECOMMENDED: How much do you know about Mitt Romney? A quiz.

But while Gingrich compares himself to the tortoise in the race, it is Romney who has been steadily building up his delegate count in a way that makes him almost unstoppable.

So far, he’s won 56 percent of the delegates available in primaries and caucuses; Santorum has won 24 percent, and Gingrich has won 14 percent, according to an Associated Press calculation.

He’s also ahead among Republican National Committee members, who are automatic delegates. And among “bound” delegates (those obliged to vote for a particular candidate at the party convention), Romney leads with 339 compared to 107 for Gingrich and 95 for Santorum. Overall, according to the Real Clear Politics tally, Romney has 453 delegates, Santorum has 199, Gingrich has 117, and Ron Paul has 64. He also enjoys an average 10-point lead over his rivals in national polls of Republicans.

“Romney is still a long way from the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination, but he is the only candidate on pace to reach the magic number before the party's national convention in August,” the AP reports. “At their current rates, Santorum and Gingrich won't reach even half the number needed.”

Other prominent news outlets have come to the same conclusion.

“Romney Has Quietly Won the Numbers Game,” announces a piece in Barron’s. In Politico, it’s “Mitt Romney's delegate math begins to add up.”

There are several reasons for this: Romney’s dominant campaign war chest, his superior organization, and the schedule of primaries and caucuses yet to be held.

"It’s Romney’s to lose," says Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, who has yet to endorse a Republican challenger to Barack Obama.

"He has almost a third of the delegates he needs," Graham said on Sunday on ABC's "This Week". "Mathematically, Rick [Santorum] would have to win 75 percent of what remains. He’s done an outstanding job, Rick has, of starting with almost nothing and being a real contender, and Newt’s come back from the dead two or three times. But mathematically, this thing is about over."

So far, neither Santorum nor Gingrich show any inclination to pull out. They may talk of winning by the end of the scheduled primaries and caucuses. “These numbers are going to change dramatically,” Santorum predicted manfully on “Meet the Press” Sunday.

But more likely their strategy at this point is “to keep Romney below the 1,144 magic number when the last primary ends in Utah, in the hopes of forcing a contested convention,” writes Maggie Haberman at Politico.

“That’s certainly the hope,” John Brabender, Santorum’s chief strategist, told Politico, and it’s Gingrich’s expectation as well.

“We want to make the case to all the delegates who are not legally bound that, in fact, the other two candidates cannot beat Obama,” Gingrich said last week. “And if they come to that conclusion, I think the convention may end up being one of the most surprising in modern times.”

RECOMMENDED: How much do you know about Mitt Romney? A quiz.

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