Why the Republican primary race is far from over

All the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination said they would go forward following the results of Super Tuesday, meaning the campaign will continue to crawl along with none of the four expected to be able to claim victory any time soon.

All of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination said they will carry on after Super Tuesday, meaning the campaign will continue to crawl along with none of the four expected to be able to claim victory any time soon.

But with front-runner Mitt Romney coming out the victor — winning the most states, most votes, most delegates, and capturing Ohio, the biggest prize of the night —  a scenario in which another candidate would catch up or even surpass him seems to be a long shot.

The race, however, is far from over. A candidate still needs 1,144 delegates to win the presidential nomination. Romney's win Tuesday night may have doubled his delegate count, but with just over 400 delegates, he's barely a third of the way to that magic number.

Although former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, Romney's closest rival, had high hopes of winning Ohio, he still managed to win three states and barely lost in Ohio, putting him on a path that is unlikely to see him drop out of the race soon.

The former Pennsylvania senator could regain some momentum and is expected to do well as the campaign now takes a mostly southern turn, heading to Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri and Louisiana.

Texas congressman Ron Paul, who has yet to win a state, is in it for the long haul, armed with a legion of devoted supporters.

Judging from Tuesday night's speech, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich planned to carry on, hoping to win by employing his so-called southern strategy.

Despite winning his home state of Georgia, Gingrich was 0-for-9 in the rest of the states and he had suggested before that the inability to win any other state would put him in a "difficult position." Gingrich said Wednesday that he will "wait and see how the race goes."

Although primary contests in the past have often been settled following Super Tuesday, this year, things are different, mostly because the Republican National Committee adopted new nomination rules.

The new rules made for a Super Tuesday that was slimmed down from other years. The rules also made it impossible for any candidate to reach the magic delegate number until the end of April — helping to ensure the race would be a more protracted affair.

The changes were in response to criticisms that the nomination contests in recent history had wrapped up too quickly. Some states had been moving up their primaries and caucuses to earlier dates. 

The committee, to extend the race and garner more enthusiasm, offered incentives to some states. If a state could hold its primary or caucus later in the year, it could be designated a winner-take-all contest, giving it a more important stake in the outcome of the race.

Elaine Kamarck, author of Primary Politics: How Presidential Candidates Have Shaped the Modern Nominating System, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that those incentives have worked.

She noted that four years ago, 80 per cent of the Republican delegates were chosen before March and that Super Tuesday — then in early February — consisted of a huge number of primaries.

This year, only 13 per cent of the Republican delegates were chosen before March — and Super Tuesday had only 10 Republican contests, compared with 21 in 2008 and didn't include the big states such as California, New Jersey and New York.

"So if a candidate can afford to, it makes sense to stay in for the long haul," Kamarck wrote.

New rules favour Romney

It would appear then that the new rules would favour Romney, who has the campaign money and resources to continue. But many observers, including some Republicans, say this year's drawn-out and nasty contest is only hurting the party.

So where does it all go from here?

Romney is expected to do well in a number of upcoming states, including New York and California, which both have some form of winner-take-all rules.

Henry Olsen, vice president of the  American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank, wrote in National Review Online that delegate math favours Romney. While Romney may have trouble in the south, including big states like Texas, those states mostly allocate their delegates proportionately.

"He can lose 60-40 in Texas and still get 40 [per cent] of the delegates," Olsen said. "States he is likely to do well in, such as New Jersey and Utah, are winner-take-all.

"That means Romney leaves Super Tuesday with a couple-hundred-delegate lead and is well positioned to end the race in June by gaining another couple hundred delegates. It will be nearly impossible for Santorum to catch him by winning in the other states left to vote."

Olsen said he sees Santorum staying in the race for months by sweeping the southern states and doing well in Wisconsin and Indiana.

"He’ll play the role George H. W. Bush played in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, doggedly staying in the race and even winning some big states," he said.

"But like Bush, he’ll eventually see the light and drop out, even if it takes until June 6 when New Jersey and California vote."

Brokered convention?

Romney's inability to score a decisive win has also raised the spectre of a brokered convention — a situation in which no one goes in with the nomination sewn up. In that case, following the first vote, all the delegates who were pledged to one candidate are released as the horse trading begins.

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin told CNN Tuesday she might be open to having her name put on the floor for the nomination if no one has the nomination wrapped up.

"Anything is possible," she said. "I don’t close any doors that perhaps would be open out there. So, no, I wouldn’t close that door. And my plan is to be at that convention."

But Romney rejected any idea of a brokered convention.

"We’ve got the time and the resources and a plan to get all the delegates and we think that’ll get done before the convention," Romney said on CNBC on Wednesday. "But one thing I can tell you for sure is, there’s not going to be a brokered convention, where some new person comes in and becomes the nominee. It’s going to be one of the four people that are still running."