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Gaming Out Super Tuesday

There are a lot of states voting on Super Tuesday (10).  Polling is sparse.  The delegate rules vary greatly between states and are complicated.  I don’t really have the resources or time to do a deep dive here.  Luckily, other people do.  On March 1st Sabato’s Crystal ball did a detailed delegate prediction while looking at all of those things.  (They also included Washington, and it seems they probably overestimated Santorum there, but that’s how predictions go.)  They don’t provide a range of predictions, just one.  Their best guess, on Super Tuesday:  Romney 197, Santorum 144, Gingrich 46, Paul 26.

This would bring their totals for the race to:  Romney 393, Santorum 221, Gingrich 98, Paul 78.  (This from adding Sabato’s numbers to my current estimates which combine the Soft Green Papers count and the DCW super delegate count.) Lets see where we would end up on my “% of remaining delegates needed to win” chart if the above is indeed what happens…

Now, technically speaking this is another of my “everybody loses!” results, as even Romney ends up increasing his “% or remaining delegates needed to win” number in this scenario (from 49.7% to 50.2%).  But there are definitely degrees of losing, and Romney has by far the best deal here.  Lets start at the bottom.

After this result Ron Paul would need 71.3% of the remaining delegates to catch up and win, compared to the 9.9% he would have gotten up to that point.  This clearly is beyond what is reasonably possible.  Paul was never about winning though, he is about getting his message out.  So he’ll of course continue on.

After this result Newt Gingrich would need 69.9% of the remaining delegates to catch up and win, compared to the 12.4% he would have gotten up to that point.  This is also clearly beyond the range of the reasonably possible.  So the question becomes if Gingrich can continue to get funding anyway to stay in and continue acting as a spoiler, with the hope that along with the other non-Romneys he can block Romney from getting to 1144.

After this result Rick Santorum would need 61.7% of the remaining delegates to catch up and win, compared to the 28.0% he would have gotten up to that point.  I am tempted to say this is ALSO clearly beyond the range of the reasonably possible, and I think it actually is.  But for the sake of argument, you can imagine a situation where Gingrich and Paul both drop out (unlikely), Santorum picks up ALL of their support (unlikely)  AND Romney has a series of major mistakes and his levels of support drop dramatically and significantly and those people decide they like Santorum after all (unlikely) then maybe Santorum can get to 61.7%.  (If even more dramatically, on dropping out Gingrich instructed his delegates to vote for Santorum, and a bunch of them indicated they probably would, that would lower the 61.7% number, but still probably not enough.)

After this result Mitt Romney would need 50.2% of the remaining delegates to get to 1144 and seal the deal, compared to the 49.7% he had gotten so far.  Unlike the other three candidates, these numbers are actually very close to each other.  If he continues just that level, he gets blocked, but Romney only has to do SLIGHTLY better than he had been doing up to that point in order to actually win.  At this point, Romney would NOT yet have started breaking out to drive his “% of remaining needed to win” number down toward zero.  At the same time, he has not had a disaster where this number starts moving dramatically upward.  But would these results put Romney in a position where finally pushing “% of remaining needed to win” down in the next few contests gets a lot easier?

If the actual result is anything like what Sabato and company predict for Super Tuesday, then it will be absolutely clear that Paul, Gingrich and Santorum are not on a path to win the nomination.  (And frankly, even before Super Tuesday, this direction was clear, this would just hammer that home.) But the three of them will still collectively be in a position where if their ability to get delegates remains flat (or increases) they will block Romney.  Their ability to keep this as something that remains possible (at least for awhile longer) will in large part depend on how Super Tuesday gets “spun”.  If we start hearing from the talking heads about how Romney’s lead is now insurmountable and this is all over, then support for the other three will start to decline rapidly, and in the next contests Romney should be able to finally actually start closing in on a win and it really will be done.

If on the other hand, the spin is all about Romney still not closing the deal and that Santorum has momentum out of winning the popular vote in Ohio or some such regardless of the delegate situation, then this drags out a bit longer.  But that depends on people continuing to vote for the non-Romneys, even after it is clear they have no shot at winning.  It truly does become a “non-Romney” vote specifically aimed at blocking Romney rather than a vote actually for any of these three guys directly.  But will the Santorum, Gingrich and Paul people actually do that?  Or will they just say “I guess it is Romney” and either vote for Romney or just stay home, finally letting Romney start getting the margins of delegates he needs to wrap this thing up?

Given the overall situation, if pressed to make the prediction, I say the spin leans toward “Maybe Romney won the night on delegates… but look at all the shiny states won by the others… and Virginia doesn’t count because Santorum and Gingrich weren’t even on the ballot…  Romney is having trouble closing the deal… we need to start looking at Kansas and Alabama and Hawaii and Mississippi and the rest of the states and territories in March (at least).  And if this this and this happen, then…  BROKERED CONVENTION!  Wouldn’t that be AWESOME???”

I predict this not because I think the numbers actually back up this case, but because it is in the interests of the press to drag this out as long as possible, so they will hype any ray of hope the non-Romneys have for as long as they can possibly get away with it, which will in turn lead people to continue to think it is a contest and vote for the non-Romneys as the process continues to drag on, which will continue to feed the Romney hasn’t locked it up narrative for awhile longer.  They did this in 2008 with the Democrats, they will do it in 2012 with the Republicans.

Then eventually it will get to the point where Romney’s lead is so overwhelming it will be hard to sustain that narrative, the support for the non-Romneys will finally start to dissipate, and Romney will slowly but surely make his way to 1144.

Having said that, despite my prediction to the contrary, I still hope the non-Romneys can sustain enough between them to block Romney.  That would be much more fun to watch.