Mitt Romney and the tricky math of winning the Republican nomination

Mitt Romney will almost certainly finish the Republican race with far more delegates than Santorum or Gingrich or Paul.

But will he finish with more than three of them put together, which is what he needs to do to win the nomination outright?

I’m guessing yes, but there are several plausible scenarios under which he’d fall short. That would mean a nail-biter of a convention this summer — and that might not be a bad thing for the Republicans. There’s something to be said for dominating the news for a period of weeks and of having a final candidate emerge Phoenix-like from the ashes of a bitter convention fight.

Of course, the conservative vs. moderate battle could turn out to be a disaster for the party, which seems to be facing increasingly long odds of winning in a few key swing states against Obama in November.

There’s a great piece on the delegate math in the NYT today, Santorum’s Delegate Math Looks Different From Romney’s. From that piece:

Rick Santorum’s campaign has begun to argue forcefully that Mitt Romney will fail to win the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, leaving the decision to a wide-open national convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer.

The argument suggests that Mr. Santorum’s strategists have all but given up on the idea that their own candidate can reach that magic number himself. A count by The Associated Press shows that Mr. Romney has already collected 454 delegates, more than twice the 217 that have pledged to support Mr. Santorum.

But Mr. Santorum and his advisers believe that he — along with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul — can effectively block Mr. Romney’s march to the nomination over the next three months. If that happens, they argue, Republicans will gather for their national convention with no certain winner — and with Mr. Romney at a disadvantage.

If only Santorum and Gingrich had gotten on the ballot in Virginia, if only they had focused campaigns on delegate accumulations sooner, if only . . .

I have serious doubts that it’s even possible to stop Romney’s momentum, but if the nominee is ultimately chosen activists at the national convention, anything could happen.

Alabama and Mississippi vote on Tuesday.