It’s halftime in the race for the Republican nomination. After Rick Santorum’s victory in Louisiana on March 24, slightly more than half of the delegates (54%) to the Tampa GOP convention have been chosen.
As of March 26, Mitt Romney had lapped the field with more delegates than Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul combined. He is estimated to now have 565 delegates, with 1144 needed for victory. Powered by clutch wins in big states like Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois, and taking advantage of a divided opposition, Romney is in a very strong position for a first-ballot nomination. It will be virtually impossible for either Santorum or Gingrich to win more delegates than Romney; the best they can hope to do is block him on the first ballot and then try to pick up the pieces after that. As we shall see, the clock is running and key parts of the schedule favor Mitt Romney. Barring a string of fumbles, the nomination is now his to lose.
As Ron Brownstein pointed out in National Journal, the Republican race has been a contest between the “GOP’s upscale managerial wing,” led by Romney, and the more populist base of evangelicals who have split their votes between Santorum and Gingrich. Romney has generally won the big metropolitan areas — Miami, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Phoenix, and Chicago — while Santorum and Gingrich have usually won the South and Heartland rural votes. Santorum has yet to win a state with a central city that has over one million people or any of the 10 most populous states.
The good news for Romney — besides the fact that he’s had more than one opponent — is that there are generally more middle-class suburban Republican voters than rural populists. Organization, money, and demographics have carried Romney thus far. Unless Santorum can shake up the race with some unexpected victories in California, New York, Wisconsin, or New Jersey, Romney will probably continue to grind out a victory.