“Folks, I didn't major in math. I majored in miracles, and I still believe in those too,” Governor Huckabee told supporters at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington D.C. on February 9, 2008.
Already beset by calls from establishment conservatives to "get out of the race," Huckabee signaled that he would stay in until McCain earned the delegates necessary to win the nomination. That night, Huckabee trounced McCain in Kansas with 60 percent of the vote, capturing all 36 of the delegates at stake. McCain only earned 24 percent of the vote.
But McCain still led Huckabee with 719 delegates to Huckabee's 234. During his victory speech, Huckabee scoffed at Texas governor Rick Perry, who had phoned him days earlier, encouraging him to get out of the race.
Citing Ronald Reagan's 1976 race, Huckabee said that Republicans "ought to be begging me" to stay in. "It's an awfully weak party that can't handle competition. Competition breeds excellence," he stated.
Three weeks later, Huckabee told Sean Hannity that the American people hadn't finished speaking yet. "What I don't understand is why everybody is in such a rush to get this settled in March,” he said. “You know, we have only been in this election process about six, not quite eight weeks yet. We have got six more months before we even get to the convention.”
In spite of Huckabee's sunny forecast, he quit days later, on March 4, after McCain won the Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island primaries. With those wins, McCain earned the 1,191 delegates he needed for the nomination.
In our current presidential election cycle, the calendar has changed somewhat, and so have the rules on winner-take-all states. As a result, the election is rolling into April. Republicans are increasingly clamoring for Rick Santorum to quit the race, on the grounds that it is virtually impossible for him to win, given the delegate math of the remaining states.
Like Huckabee, Santorum believes in miracles. But he seems unwilling to drop out until the math is truly settled. As inevitable as Romney’s nomination seems, the convincing delegate count that led to Huckabee's exit in 2008 does not yet exist. After his win in Wisconsin, the Associated Press puts Romney at 655 delegates out of a needed 1,144. Santorum stands a distant second with 278 delegates.
In March 2008, delegate-rich states such as Texas, California, and New York had already awarded nearly all their delegates to McCain by the time Huckabee dropped. But this year, the Texas election has been delayed by a redistricting lawsuit to May 29. California's primary is June 5, and New York's is on April 24.
Texas might be the clincher this time, after their May 29 primary, but Romney may need to go as far as California to clinch the nomination.
Last night, both Santorum and Newt Gingrich repeated their promise to take the fight all the way to the Republican convention Tampa. For April, Romney is heavily favored in four of the five remaining contests – Connecticut, Delaware, New York, and Rhode Island. He faces a greater challenge to defeat Santorum in his home state of Pennsylvania.
Santorum hopes to prevail on his home turf, then boost his delegate count in May, when Indiana, North Carolina, Nebraska, and Arkansas vote.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton did not concede to Barack Obama until June 7, four days after he had mathematically clinched the Democratic nomination. It was a late finish that this year’s Republican field might imitate. If Santorum perseveres, Romney will have to hold off on declaring victory until the math is truly settled.