As we pass the midpoint point of the 2012 Republican presidential primary, Mitt Romney has accrued nearly half the delegates needed to secure his party's nomination.
But can Romney gain enough to clinch the nomination before the convention if both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich remain in the race? As an unaligned Republican, I believe he can.
The April calendar provides Romney with a breakaway opportunity. He will win the D.C. winner-take-all primary; Santorum is not even on the ballot. From there, the former Massachusetts governor has favorable terrain in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware—moderate states without big evangelical populations.
From there, Romney could deliver a demoralizing blow to Santorum in Wisconsin and perhaps even in Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania. If Romney can meet expectations in April and deliver a knockout blow in Pennsylvania and/or Wisconsin, that might do it.
But should Romney stumble in April, the race could be wide open. May brings contests in Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Texas—all with significant evangelical populations, pockets of "very conservative" voters, and/or a sizeable number of rural constituents. Victories there would give the cash-strapped-but-hard-charging Santorum campaign the momentum to withstand tough races ahead in June in delegate-rich California and New Jersey and in Mormon-friendly Utah.
Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul don't seem likely to contend going forward. Gingrich, who deserves credit for challenging President Obama on energy policy, is said to be reading up on brokered conventions and planning to fight all the way to Tampa. But his campaign again is taking on debt almost as fast as the Obama administration.
As for Paul, nobody but he is sure what he is after —planks in the GOP platform, a say in vice presidential selection? Paul doesn't have a lot of delegates, but he is more likely to help Romney than any of the others.
And even if Romney doesn't reach 1,144 by Tampa, there remains the matter of those 123 Republican National Committee superdelegates. If Romney signals he will give them a seat at the head table, a majority will push him over the top even if they have to twist the arms of other uncommitted delegates.
About Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
Jamie Chandler Professor at Hunter College
Lara Brown Author of 'Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants'
Ron Bonjean Former Chief of Staff for the Senate Republican Conference