As we approach the Nevada caucus, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have both pledged to contest the nomination until June. Gingrich's strategy is to forfeit caucus states, essentially giving a boost to Santorum and Paul, while preparing to compete in large conservative Southern primaries in the coming months.
A review of the delegate apportionment rules set by each state reveals why this strategy is unlikely to work and why the Gingrich campaign is challenging winner-take-all rules in Florida and making legal challenges to Virginia's ballot.
Delegate apportionment in large states Romney is likely to win (New York, Massachusetts, California) heavily weight their delegate slates towards the victor . Large states likely to go to Gingrich (Georgia, Texas) will divide their delegates without as much weighting towards the victor. This means that if Romney and Gingrich win New York and Texas respectively by the same margin, Texas could award twice as many delegates to Gingrich as they do to Romney while New York could award Romney nearly 6 times as many delegates as they do Gingrich.
The Gingrich campaign's failure to make the ballot in Virginia, a state that heavily favors him, delivers Romney a large slate of uncontested delegates he would not win otherwise. Virginia's delegate allocation rules heavily favor the winner of the popular vote in each congressional district, meaning that Gingrich lost a change to not only win a delegate-rich state, but to win it by a large margin and mitigate Romney's similar advantage in aforementioned states such as New York and Massachusetts. Romney will likely win around 40 delegates from Virginia. As one of the largest states to favor Gingrich, this is a setback that cannot be recovered from in a protracted campaign.
All of the winner-take-all states heavily favor Romney. Romney has already won Florida, among the remaining are : Arizona, Puerto Rico, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Utah. The comparative advantage Romney will enjoy over Gingrich from the winner-take-all states, the differences in delegate allocation among proportional states, and Gingrich's Virginia ballot disqualification means that Romney could lose the national popular vote while still enjoying a comfortable enough lead among the delegates to secure the nomination.
Even if Rick Santorum were to drop out, Gingrich would see the largest gains from his abscense in caucus states that tend to allocate their delegates more evenly according to the popular vote. If 100% of Santorum's support hypothetically went to Gingrich, the extra delegates would still not be enough to let him catch up to Romney. This scenario is unlikely as polling suggests that Romney would benefit more from Santorum's exit than Gingrich due to his supporters high priority on moral and family issues.
While it is technically true that Romney will not secure enough delegates to win the nomination until June, no one will be able to catch up to him at any point and the structural advantages he enjoys will ultimately win him the nomination. Ironically, John McCain benefited from the same rules in 2008 which prompted the Romney campaign to see the writing on the wall and drop out in February.
: While Gingrich was given the role of the leading "anti-Romney" candidate when this was written, the numbers are tracking very close to the projections if Santorum and Gingrich are swapped.
2012 RNC Delegate Summary
, RNC Counsel Office
RealClearPolitics - 2012 Republican Primary State Polling