With a week to go until the Florida primary, Newt Gingrich has pulled even with Mitt Romney — at the very least. PPP, a Democratic polling firm has Newt leading by five points, 38 to 33 points. That could be dismissed as a piece of mischief-making, but Rasmussen, which leans Republican, has Gingrich ahead by seven points, 35 to 28. By that measure, Gingrich has made up close to 20 points in a fortnight. There is no reason to believe that these figures are soft, given the result in South Carolina — where Gingrich’s final result of 40%, exceeded even the most optimistic polling, and Romney’s 28% was a disastrous dip below the 30% threshold.

So it’s on. And if Gingrich wins he’ll take all Florida’s delegates, 50 in total, which will put him way ahead in the delegate count. But that would be the least important part of a Florida victory. Indeed, the state was stripped of half its 99 delegates, because it pushed its primary too far forward in the calendar. The state judged it worth the penalty in order to position itself as either king maker or firewall. Romney hoped it would be both. A week ago — a week! — he was looking forward to setting a record, the first candidate to win the first four contests (the Nevada caucus is usually before Florida), and wrapping it all up before the primary season had even begun.

Now he is facing a loss, and a bruising state-by-state campaign all the way to June. His campaign has a touch of the Hillary Clintons about it — they were unprepared for this eventuality, and so the next four months seem more exhausting than they would otherwise be. That lack of preparedness — organisational and existential — did for Hillary, and it may take Mitt down as well. Indeed, it is worse for Romney, as there seems no sign that Rick Santorum has any intention of getting out of the race any time soon, and Ron Paul will be there still, to the bitter end, banging on about the Fed and sound money and “all these wars”. They will peck at his clean Mormon liver like it was a foie gras entree.

That will be all good fun, but the big question is, could Newt win? Or could there be a brokered convention, with no one candidate gaining 50%+1 pledged delegates by the end of the process? Most pundits are saying that Romney faces an uphill battle. But, really, the value of such conventional wisdom is now at about zero. So let’s look at the figures:

The delegate count so far is: 60 allocated — with Gingrich on 28, Romney on 14, Ron Paul on 10 and Rick Santorum on eight and the target result is 1144 from a total of 2286 delegates

1) The remainder of the primaries fall into six groups: the post-Florida bracket, comprising Maine (24 delegates) and Nevada (28) on February 4; Colorado (36) and Minnesota (40) on February 7; Arizona (29) and Michigan (30) on February 28; and Washington state (43) on March 3.

Gingrich would be competitive in Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and possibly Minnesota and Washington state — liberal states often swing right in the GOP primaries. Only Maine and Michigan are reliable territory for Mitt, and Maine’s delegates are unpledged.

Arizona and Nevada are pledged states and would keep Gingrich ahead in the delegate count, no matter what wins Romney took.

2) That would be a prelude to: Super Tuesday — of the 11 primaries occurring on that firewall day, Mitt will take Massachusetts (41, awarded proportionally) and Vermont (17, winner-take-all); Gingrich, unless he has again collapsed, will be highly competitive in Georgia (76, wta), and in competition with Santorum for Oklahoma (43, wta), Tennessee (58, wta), Ohio (66, wta) and Virginia (49, wta) are toss-ups; Alaska (27) Idaho (32), North Dakota (28), and Wyoming (29), are caucuses, and all toss-ups.

Thus, if Gingrich can nail the socially conservative South, and either Ohio or Virginia, he would come out the winner from Super Tuesday.

3) The Long Haul. Had Romney’s campaign gone according to plan, all competitors except the perennial Ron Paul would have been finally, decisively knocked out by Super-T. But if Gingrich is still in the race, there’s a seven-week period between Super Tuesday, and another six primaries on April 24. That includes one WTA southern states (Alabama (50) ) a swing WTA Missouri (52), another three southern caucuses/proportional contests, and Texas on April 3.

The latter has 155 delegates, and, though distributed proportionally, a decisive win in the Lone Star State would be a powerful set-up for the April 24, when New York (95), Connecticut and Delaware award nearly 120 WTA delegates. They will likely favour Romney, but Pennsylvania and Delaware, also on that day, would be a toss-up, Romney taking the cities (or hamlets in Delaware’s case), Gingrich the bits between.

4) Long haul, part deux — six primaries in a fortnight in May, from the 8th to the 22nd, has two WTA primaries that favour Gingrich (West Virginia and Indiana), and two more southern proportional contests (Arkansas 36, and Kentucky, 45) would also favour Gingrich.

5) California — the June 5 contest in the West awards 172 delegates WTA, the single largest allocation. Romney would be regarded as quids in, and remains the favourite, but Gingrich’s crazy whizzbang technoconservatism could be a selling point. Gingrich’s secret weapon may be that, unlike a Huckabee or a Santorum, he’s competitive in the South and California, and industrial states such as Pennsylvania. Romney may get a boost from New Jersey, a 50-delegate WTA race.

6) The final act — if California hasn’t been the decider, then Romney will have the advantage — with the WTA Utah contest (40 delegates) on June 26. Montana would be a toss-up — right-wing crazies versus Mormon right-wing crazies. Who knows? If it’s really close, it would come down to New Mexico, whose 23 proportionally distributed delegates might give one candidate the three or four extra they need to make it over the top.

It is all a lot more complicated than that (and listings, as they say, vary), and sheer delegate count is not the only way to look at it. Performance in the hardcore swing states — Florida and Ohio in the first instance, and then Colorado and New Mexico and one or two others — will be of import. The key watching brief may focus on Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and particularly Missouri, all of which are swing states and open primaries, where it will be possible to gauge the active enthusiasm of independent voters for either of the two major candidates.Part of Romney’s problem is that South Carolina was an open primary too, and the argument that he was the preferred candidate of independent voters was blown out of the water by Gingrich’s big win among that group.

The likelihood that Romney would take New York and California and a string of northern states, makes a outright Gingrich win very unlikely. But he doesn’t need a win. He just needs to block Romney and charge into the convention with a determination to get Santorum and Paul’s delegates, and the several hundred unpledged attendees.

This prospect now has many talking about a brokered convention, the most prominent of which was the deliciously named Dick Armey, head of FreedomWorks, the sinister funding group that essentially shaped the Tea Party into its current form.

Armey was trying to refute the notion that the Tea Party was a dead force, noting that:

“You’d have to argue it’s not likely that anybody on the field is going to come out of this process with 51% of the delegates. Therefore the real determination of the presidential nomination outcome is going to be at convention time. Our impact is extremely important at that point.”

Former Republican National chairman Michael Steele claims that a brokered convention is a 50-50 chance, and Erik Erikson of RedState and neocon poobah Bill Kristol have both spoken of it. For conservatives from the wilder shores of the Right, a brokered convention would be a dream come true — it would give them the chance to have the drag-out fight with the party’s establishment, a fight they’ve wanted for decades. For establishment conservatives, by contrast, it’s a nightmare, an out-of-control process that would produce an unelectable candidate.

That possibility has produced an emergency Republican scenario — the idea of a draft-in, whereby someone who has not participated in the process, accepts a nomination from the floor, and gains a majority. They’re already tossing names around, such as Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor who will be giving a reply to tonight’s “State of the Union” address by President Obama.

Daniels looks like a tired old white guy to me, but he is at least plausible; the other name being touted — Jeb Bush, former Florida governor, brother of you know who — strikes one as a register of the basically delusional nature of sections of the Republican establishment, which, in this case, manages to put the bubble-headed nature of the Democratic establishment in the shade. Eisenhower was a kind of draft-in, though he was a draft-in at the start of the process. The last true draft-in was James Garfield. That went well. But it’s a real possibility this time round, and after three more months of this, Mitt Romney look with envy to Garfield’s fate.

Peter Fray

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