Newt Gingrich? Mitt Romney? Ron Paul? GOP Race Won't End Quickly

The quirks of the primary process could make all the difference for the Republican presidential nomination.

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Remember 2008, when the Democratic primary process got very sticky after Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire and the momentum shifted? Or way back in 1980 when Ted Kennedy began to gain some steam after early defeats? Or even 1976 when Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford on the Republican side and late entrants like Frank Church and Jerry Brown and Mo Udall began to chip away at Jimmy Carter on the Democratic side?

Who can forget Obama netting more delegates from winning the Idaho caucuses than Hillary Clinton did by winning the New Jersey primary? (Well, most forget, but not the Clinton campaign delegate "wizards" who didn't do their candidate any favors by neglecting the math!)

Filing deadlines matter, completing delegate slates matter, the arcane rules of proportional delegates versus winner take all versus some sort of hybrid, really matter!

[Check out political cartoons about the 2012 Republican presidential field.]

Not every year but it sure may this year.

Can Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich get the math and organization right, even if he is up in the polls? Can candidates who clearly can't win the nomination (Rep. Ron Paul, for example) amass enough delegates to take to the convention to deny a first ballot victory and play power broker? Will a group of the Republican candidates hang in because they foresee a possible open convention, unlike what we have seen in generations?

An unlikely scenario maybe, but not impossible.

Here are some facts, courtesy of Virginia professor Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball:  345 delegates (15 percent ) will be selected prior to Super Tuesday on March 6th; 564 delegates will be selected on Super Tuesday (25 percent ); the remaining delegates, 1,355 (59 percent ) will be selected after the Super Tuesday March 6th contests.

[See a slide show of GOP spouses on the 2012 campaign trail.]

Now, here is where things get murky and where we need some very enterprising press operation—the big news networks or some aggressive group of reporters to quickly pull all this together.

How have the candidates done in getting on the ballot in the 50 states? How have the candidates fared in filling the necessary delegate slates? Which winner-take-all states occur when and who is likely to win them?

If winner-take-all primaries are not allowed prior to April 1 and the number of delegates selected after that date is 1,000+ delegates, then about half can be selected with the old system of winner-take-all and half definitely with a proportional system. If candidates are not organized to compete in caucus states or to fill their slates how will this affect the outcome?

If this is a long slog we need to do some analysis now of who is missing filing deadlines, who is unable to get on the ballot, who can't compete organizationally. Gingrich already missed Missouri and didn't file a full slate of delegates in New Hampshire. Where is he (and others) in the other states that follow?

[See a collection of political cartoons on Newt Gingrich.]

Rules are pretty well set after some exceptions and delegate penalties assessed—Florida, South Carolina, Arizona, Michigan, and New Hampshire have seen their delegates cut (at least temporarily) for not following the Republican National Committee guidelines.

The point is that we have not seen a complete analysis of each state, their rules, the candidates' filings, the way delegates will be apportioned.

This 2012 Republican nomination may come down to the math and a thorough analysis. Where are the Moneyball analysts now that we need them?

  • Read about how football could disrupt the Iowa caucuses.
  • See a photos of the 2012 GOP hopefuls.
  • Read why Iowa shouldn't go first in the nominating process.