Mitt Romney should be sending flowers to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
If Republicans hadn't gotten jealous of their long and winding nomination fight in 2008, the former governor might not be in such a favorable position in his current battle for the GOP crown. As it stands, the rules of the nomination contest mean at this stage, it is very unlikely any rival will catch up with him.
The former Massachusetts governor has accrued about double the amount of delegates of his closest competition, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Romney has 495 compared to Santorum's 252, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's 131 and Texas Rep. Ron Paul's 48, according to the Associated Press.
But even though there are still 25 contests to go, it's very difficult for anyone to gain on Romney, even if he continues to lose some primaries, says Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
That's because most of the states will allocate their delegates proportionally, a system that rewards candidates even if they don't win outright. "The long and short of it is that it's confusing, but there just aren't that many huge winner-take-all prizes out there," Kondik says.
Romney is therefore insulated by the lead he's already built, even if he evenly splits the rest of the delegates en route to reaching the 1,144 necessary to secure the nomination.
The largest "winner-take-all" state remaining is New Jersey, with 53 delegates at stake – but that primary is not until June 5, one of the last scheduled. Other winner-take-all primaries, like Washington, D.C. or Wisconsin, have fewer delegates at stake or award a certain number of delegates proportionally while also awarding extras to the overall winner.
"New Jersey is pretty simple – New Jersey is the one place where an upset by Santorum could make a big difference," Kondik says. "But for instance, in Wisconsin, if Santorum wins, he'll get significantly more delegates, but Romney would probably still get some from winning the congressional district."
Other big states, such as California, New York and Texas that offer up a total of 419 delegates, are also winner-take-all by congressional district.
Ultimately, it's as if for every two steps Santorum takes to get closer to the nomination, Romney's guaranteed to take at least one as well. And he's already leading the race by multiple laps.
Sabato's Crystal Ball blog, written by UVA professor Larry Sabato, Geoffrey Skelley and Kondik, places Romney's odds on winning the GOP nomination at 80 percent, thanks in part to the delegate math.
"Barring a massive, difficult to fathom shift in this contest, Mitt Romney has a better than 80 [percent] chance to be the GOP nominee. No amount of wild tapping on CNN's magic wall will alter those odds," they write.
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