So what will it mean if Rick Santorum wins the Michigan primary tonight if his victory is partly due to Democrats who decided to vote for him only to prolong the agony we have all come to know as the Republican presidential primary? Not much, unless Mitt Romney suddenly decides to throw in the towel. A win on Tuesday by Rick Santorum will only make some of the critical errors he and his staff made in the states where he did not get on the ballot or is not eligible for the maximum number of delegates loom even larger.
Any serious Republican candidate who truly intended to challenge Mitt Romney would have raised more money at the outset than either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum did. They most certainly would have engaged a campaign manager who knew it was imperative to be on the ballot in all delegate yielding states. What the Gingrich and Santorum campaigns are doing now is the political equivalent of the Hail Mary pass you often see at the end of a football game when time is running out and the losing team is a long way from the end zone.
What most people are not taking into account for Super Tuesday are the subtleties in the changes the state organizations made to their delegate allocation systems after the RNC’s 2010 rule change. The delegates in most of the GOP state primaries can revert from being proportionally distributed back to winner take all status.
Looking at the March states and matching 2012 to 2008, the most frequent response to the rules changes was for states to tack on a conditional element to their allocation rules. Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia — all Super Tuesday states — added a conditional element to their allocation rules. Winner-take-all allocation is dependent upon a candidate receiving over 50% of the vote, statewide and/or on the congressional district level. This is an important point. That 50% threshold is really going to play a role if the field has been winnowed down to just two candidates. Actually, FHQ has made this point before: The fewer candidates there are, the more likely it is that someone breaks 50% of the vote, and subsequently takes all the delegates in any of these conditional states.
If Rick Santorum wins Michigan today, or comes within spitting distance of victory, I think we are going to be treated to an even more extreme brand of Santorum Insantity. His fire and brimstone campaign speeches may appeal to the hard knot of faithful supporters he has maintained from the beginning, but place him at a distinct disadvantage with the moderate contingent of the GOP electorate. A Santorum win in Michigan will put him in the same place Newt Gingrich was after South Carolina—atop a sudden burst of momentum his nascent campaign is ill-equipped to handle.