We can officially call the GOP nomination, or so sayeth a team of experts at The New Yorker. Teaming with political scientist Josh Putnam of the blog Frontloading HQ, Ryan Lizza and Andrew Prokop gamed out the remaining primaries and caucuses, using demographic data from the states that have voted thus far to project vote totals in next several months of contests. They go through their extensive calculations in the post, but the gist of their conclusion is as follows:
Romney currently has 504 delegates. And so, according to our model, he is projected to end the contests on June 26th with 1,122 delegates.
So what does this all mean? Romney will be 22 delegates short of the 1,144 he’ll need to win the nomination. That might sound like good news for Rick Santorum, but according to Putnam’s count there will also be 598 unbound delegates remaining at this point. These delegates can support any candidate, either because they are chosen in non-binding caucuses or conventions, or because they’ve been directly elected in primaries. If Romney is only slightly short of his magic number, it will be easy for him to win the support of unpledged delegates from states that he won, like Illinois, Maine, and Washington.
For Santorum to have a shot at blocking Romney’s nomination, he actually needs to hold Romney well below the magic number by the time the remaining contests end. One of the only ways that could happen is if California, where we assume Romney will win 154 out of 172 delegates, behaves in the exact opposite way our model predicts.
The predictions were made before last night's results in Maryland and Wisconsin, which followed closely along the stated expectations. The numbers point to a conclusion that has been the assumption ever since Romney won a large majority on Super Tuesday: there is no practical way Rick Santorum can close the delegate gap. The myth that Romney might somehow far short of the required 1,144 delegates, thus sparking some sort of idealized brokered convention, has also been effectively ruled out. Despite protestations from Newt Gingrich and Santorum, Romney has never needed to exactly cross the 1,144 threshold, he just needs to clear enough of a lead that the Republican Party would take on the appearance of overturning the popular will if they chose to install a new candidate in Tampa. With Santorum trailing by such a wide margin, it is inconceivable that those unbound delegates would deny Romney the victory.