The Daily Beast:
It’s far from over. Despite claiming six state wins last night and upping his delegate count to 404, Mitt Romney still does not have a lock on the nomination—or even a clear path to claiming it if his opponents don’t leave the field.
Consider this: If Mitt wins every remaining all-or-nothing state but one, and half of the remaining proportional delegates, he would likely still fall short of the magic nomination number of 1,144—which would force him to rely on unpledged delegates, the Republican version of the infamous Democratic superdelegates in 2008, to claim his party’s mantle.
Even if Mitt somehow won every delegate in every coming contest, he still wouldn’t clinch the nomination until Oregon’s primary on May 15.
And if Romney only musters 40% of the proportional delegates going forward—equivalent to his share of the popular vote total to date—it would mean the first Republican race undecided when the convention opened in a generation.
In a press briefing later today, the Romney camp is expected to argue that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have no chance of claiming the nomination, comparing their uphill climb to the extended delegate fight between Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008. This is true, but it purposefully misses the point. Santorum, Gingrich and Paul individually have no real path to winning the delegate fight—but collectively they are positioned to deny the nomination to Romney and kick the contest to the convention in Tampa, where all delegates are released after the first ballot.
(...) On Saturday, 40 delegates in socially conservative Kansas are up for grabs. That’s followed next Tuesday by joint primaries in Alabama and Mississippi where nearly 90 combined delegates are at stake. Romney—who has never done well in the deep South, losing in Tennessee last night by nearly ten points—seems unlikely to win any of these states.
After those states, there are successive showdowns in Missouri, where Santorum won a beauty contest primary by more than 20 points last month as well as Illinois and Louisiana. Finally, the month ends with Potomac Primaries of Maryland and DC along with Wisconsin’s nomination contest on April 3. The big delegate prizes of New York, California and Texas loom ahead, with the final primary – fortuitously for Romney, Utah – scheduled for late June.
(...) The delegate math shows that the earliest this contest could be mathematically over is May—and the latest, Utah in late June or even August in Tampa.
Unless Santorum, Gingrich or Paul can be prematurely pressured out, this contest will go on. Momentum drives the story line, but math drives the delegate count, and that may be all that matters in this year’s proportional fight for the Republican nomination.