Newt Gingrich in the wake of two losses in deep South States is seeking a justification for remaining in the race. When challenged by Brett Baier, Gingrich was unable to name a single state that he could win. Indeed, after playing hard as a “Southern Candidate” Gingrich has lost three straight Southern States including two deep South States near his home state of Georgia, so it’s hard to imagine Gingrich winning elsewhere. Still Gingrich claimed a roll in the race.
His argument for continuing is that he and Senator Rick Santorum are playing a “tag team” that is denying Romney the nomination. Gingrich argues that should he leave the race, his supporters will split between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney and that Romney will turn all of his considerable resources on defeating his remaining foe-Santorum.
The second argument is fatuous. Campaign ads have not been running against Gingrich for some weeks, at least not in any number. The vast majority of its fire has been on Senator Santorum already and will remain so, particularly as Gingrich is no longer a serious threat.
The first argument is worthy of some consideration. The idea that the presence of two conservatives in the race has hurt Romney’s progress is at least mathematically accurate. One can’t take Newt Gingrich’s total support and added it to Rick Santorum. Without Gingrich in the race, some of Gingrich’s support would go to Romney. One poll showed with Gingrich gone, 56% of his supporters would go to Santorum, 27% to Romney and 16% to Ron Paul. Nate Silver of the New York Times did an analysis on this basis that showed that while Santorum would have won Ohio and Alaska without Gingrich in the race, Romney would have netted more delegates because most of the contests up until now have proportionally allocated their delegates.
However, in Alabama and Mississippi, this may not have been the case. Both states allocated congressional districts and an at-large delegation proportionally. With 56% of Gingrich supporters going to Santorum, Santorum would have won Alabama 51-36%, and Mississippi at 50.2%-39%. Santorum would have captured all the at-large Delegates for both Alabama and Mississippi as well as won a majority in most of the eleven congressional districts in the two states, leaving Romney with perhaps as few as six to twelve delegates as opposed to the twenty-three he won through Gingrich’s presence which left the winner with less than a majority.
Looking down the road, there are even more states that are either winner take all by Congressional District or winner take all by state. In addition, Nebraska and Montana will elect their delegates at their June State Conventions, so their primaries are non-binding. However, any chance that Santorum will have of getting delegates in these states will be greatly enhanced by winning the primaries. So, Gingrich splitting the vote isn’t going to help.
Of course those states that have proportional allocation with a relatively low threshold to obtain delegates that allow Gingrich to theoretically help stop Romney by winning voters who would have otherwise supported the former Massachusetts Governor. On the other hand, those that are winner take-all by Congressional District or proportional with a threshold above 15% are likely to have Gingrich advancing the cause of Mitt Romney by splitting the conservative vote and allowing Romney to win a plurality or a larger share of the delegates than he would otherwise.
How do the remaining states line up?
Gingrich’s Presence Will Help Romney
Louisiana (Proportional-25% threshold)
Arkansas (Proportional, but if a candidate wins a majority, they get all delegates.)
South Dakota (Proportional-20% threshold)
Gingrich’s Presence will hurt Romney:
Gingrich’s Presence Will Likely Help Romney
In fourteen states including California, the presence of Newt Gingrich will help Mitt Romney pick up delegates either by stopping Santorum from winning a majority of the vote (in Arkansas), enabling Romney to win either statewide or in congressional districts, by taking votes from Santorum in proportional contests where Gingrich is unlikely to reach the high delegate thresholds.
In three other states, the pure proportional nature of the contests and lack of thresholds means that Gingrich is marginally hurting Romney by filching a few delegates that would have gone to the former Massachusetts Governor. If we assume 12% for Gingrich in Oregon and Oregon and 20% in both Texas and North Carolina, that would give Gingrich forty-four delegates, of which twelve would have gone to Romney otherwise.
The five other states are somewhat harder to call. While Rhode Island and New Mexico divide their delegates proportionally at fifteen percent of the vote, results in other contests in these regions suggest Gingrich is unlikely to meet the threshold given the momentum in the race, so his presence is most likely to only reduce Santorum’s delegate haul rather than generate any of his own.
Connecticut and New York are dicier. Both states offer some delegates as winner take-all by Congressional District. The remaining delegates (ten in Connecticut and thirty-four in New York) are awarded to the winner of the state if he wins a majority. If no one wins a majority, the delegates will be split proportionally among all candidates winning 20% of the vote or more. Romney is expected to win both states. However, Gingrich’s presence could cost Santorum districts in upstate New York. In addition, if Romney finishes solidly under 50% in both states, Gingrich would cost Santorum at-large delegates.
There is one scenario under which Gingrich’s presence could hurt Romney slightly. If due to a Gingrich split, Romney wins in New York, but not with a majority (say with 48% and Gingrich wins 10%), Gingrich could help Romney win a Congressional District or two in upstate New York while at the same time he could hold Romney under 50%, allowing Santorum to pick up slightly more at-large delegates in one or both states.
Kentucky is also complicated. The state awards eighteen delegates winner-take-all by Congressional District and Gingrich’s presence could help Romney by splitting the conservative vote. On the other hand, it awards twenty-four statewide delegates proportionally with a fifteen percent threshold that Gingrich would probably still be able to get to. However, Gingrich would be unlikely to win enough proportional delegates that Romney would have otherwise won to make up for throwing even one Congressional District to Romney.
The math is simply against Newt Gingrich having a positive impact in terms of stopping Mitt Romney. Overall, Gingrich is now Romney’s best friend in this race.
However, the race is more than math. There is psychology and how voters and activists feel about the race. More victories and wider margins make conservatives feel more confident that Romney can be stopped. Santorum won three of ten states on Super Tuesday, a majority of the vote in Kansas, and single digit wins in Mississippi and Alabama. Without Gingrich, Santorum would have won five of ten states on Super Tuesday to Romney’s four, a super majority in Kansas, and won both Alabama and Mississippi outright by double digit margins over Mitt Romney. This situation may not have changed delegate math much, but it would have increased conservative sentiment that Mitt Romney wasn’t so electable after all and that he could be beaten.
Conservatives can win in fight for someone under one banner, rather than working under multiple banners and attempting to be too cute by half in playing strategy games.
The results are clear, as is the way forward. If conservatives want to nominate an alternative to Romney, their only hope is to unite behind Rick Santorum.