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Santorum and the RNC
His campaign is targeting the “super delegates.”

Kim Lehman (Dave Davidson/www.TEApublican.com)

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Robert Costa

Nevertheless, James Bopp — a committee member from Indiana and the leader of the RNC’s conservative caucus — is confident that his candidate, Romney, will be able to win over a majority of super delegates. By sweeping the Illinois primary on Tuesday, the former Massachusetts governor expanded his delegate-count lead and stirred many Republican observers, especially party leaders, to say that the GOP primary was nearing its conclusion. “Republicans, we don’t want a convention fight if we can avoid it,” Bopp says. “People really want to start focusing on Obama.”

“Barring some very unusual and dramatic event, it’s clear that Governor Romney is going to get the number of delegates he needs before the convention,” Bopp says. “Now, if this goes to a convention, which I don’t expect, I do think I could be very helpful to Romney in that context. I have worked very closely with conservatives at that level. We’ve worked very hard to advance conservative causes and people recognize me as a dedicated activist. Romney has a lot more support among conservatives than the polls — which cut up the conservative vote — give him credit for.”

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Still, there is a sense within Santorum’s senior team that if they can turn in strong performances in upcoming states, such as Louisiana and Wisconsin, the party establishment will hesitate to fully embrace Romney before the convention. This would enable Lehman and other pro-Santorum forces within the RNC’s upper echelon to cobble together blocs of undecided Romney skeptics before a Tampa scramble.

Of course, sustaining this strategy — especially in the early summer, when Romney advisers and many Beltway pundits may chide Santorum to leave the race — will not be easy. The pressure for Santorum to bow out, should he remain in second place in the delegate tally after the final primary election in June, will be intense — even if Romney fails to reach the magic 1,144.

In that hypothetical situation, Santorum advisers acknowledge, they’ll need more than super delegates and a handful of primary victories to sustain the campaign’s case. In short, they’ll need the math, as well as the momentum, to move in their direction. Beyond arguing, as usual, that Romney does not have adequate support among conservatives, evangelicals, and blue-collar voters, they want to be able to assert, with evidence, that Romney does not have as many delegates as he claims.

John Yob, Santorum’s senior delegate adviser, began to wage a war on this front on Tuesday. On a conference call, he told reporters that the two most prominent delegate counts — the official RNC tally and the AP’s frequently cited tally — could be flawed. “Most of the media counts that you see out there, and certainly the Romney count, for whatever reason choose to make their assessment based on the straw polls,” he said, “rather than the county conventions and district conventions, which do have an impact.”

The RNC count, which shows Romney leading Santorum by a 416–170 margin, also does not yet include the results from eight caucus states, Yob continued. He predicted that once those states hold their delegate conventions, Santorum’s RNC count will rise, since conservative activists — Santorum’s base — are the major players at these events.

“It’s only projections,” Yob cautioned, but in caucus states such as Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri, where Santorum has a highly organized delegate-hunting effort, the campaign is slowly closing the gap. “We have a much more invigorated base of grassroots support,” he said.



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