Most people assume that despite his losses on Tuesday, Mitt Romney remains in the best position to secure the Republican nomination given his superior money and organization. And that analysis is probably correct. But at the same time, there’s a plausible chance that when all the primaries and caucuses are over in June, he’ll still be short of the 1,144 delegates needed to make him the "presumptive Republican nominee."
The rules governing the allocation of delegates are highly complex and the race remains extremely volatile, so it’s a futile exercise to try and make a detailed delegate projection at this point in time. But it is conceivable to craft the following general scenario: Romney wins states in the west and northeast, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum combine to dominate the south, Midwest and Appalachia, and Ron Paul siphons off a chunk of delegates. If such a scenario plays out, it’s possible to see how Romney could have problems getting over the top, even if analysts are broadly correct that his money and organization give him the edge.
Just to provide a sense of how this could happen, I spent some time playing around with CNN’s delegate calculator feature and divided the states up two categories. Obviously, this is pretty rough. We don’t have much polling data for these states, and the fact that Santorum could win Colorado means that Romney may not as strong in the mountain west as everybody once thought. Furthermore, there’s also the possibility that both Santorum and Gingrich could fade before contests in other states take place.
With that said, here are the states that are probably solid or lean Romney states: Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Michigan, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia (where Santorum and Gingrich aren’t on the ballot), and Indiana (where Santorum isn’t on the ballot).
Here are the states that it’s easier to see Santorum or Gingrich winning: Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Because most states in 2012 are allocated proportionally rather than winner-take-all, it’s really difficult to predict how the delegates would be awarded. Romney’s opponents will win delegates in states that he wins and he’ll get delegates in the states that he loses. But just for the sake of this exercise, if Romney were to win all of the delegates in all of the states that I identified above as solid or lean states, it would only get him to 1,008 delegates, according to the CNN calculator -- still short of the required 1,144.
What happens then is unclear, because it would be unchartered territory in the modern era. In theory, all of the candidates can take their delegates to the convention and fight it out there. However, its also possible that one of the other candidates would cut a deal with Romney to release their delegates before then. Either way, such a scenario does not seem out of the question.