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In GOP Races, It's About Delegates And Santorum Probably Can't Get Enough

Based on Rick Santorum's wins in Tennessee and Oklahoma, you might be tempted to think that the Republican presidential race is still wide open.

But according to Josh Putnam, the political scientist and brains behind the Frontloading HQ blog and among the nation's leading experts on the presidential primary delegate allocation process, it isn't. It's all about the delegate count and Romney leads in that department with no clear path for Santorum to get to the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination.

In a post he put up before the votes started rolling in, he wrote:

"FHQ has been saying since our Very Rough Estimate of the delegate counts a couple of weeks ago that Romney is the only candidate who has a chance to get there. But, of course, I have not yet shown my work. No, it isn't mathematically impossible, but it would take either Gingrich or Santorum over-performing their established level of support in the contests already in the history books to such an extent that it is all but mathematically impossible. Santorum, for instance, has averaged 24.2% of the vote in all the contests. Since (and including) his February 7 sweep, he is averaging 34.7% of the vote. That is an improvement, but it is not nearly enough to get the former Pennsylvania senator within range of the 1144 delegates necessary to win the Republican nomination."

Santorum actually outperformed that 34.7 percent average in Tennessee (37.3 percent) though not in Oklahoma (33.7 percent) another state he won.

Putnam's lengthy explanation of why Santorum can't catch up in the delegate race is super complicated. But it's worth reading for a sense of just how byzantine the delegate-allocation process is.

If Newt Gingrich stays in the race and continues to split the conservative vote, that certainly could make it tough for Santorum to get much above the threshold Putnam outlines.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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