enough delegates from voters to secure
the Republican nomination, but the party's
super delegates can put him over the top.
Technically, there are actually 168 super delegates, but 15 of those super delegates can't vote because their states voted early, breaking RNC rules, and 33 of them are bound to support the winner of their state's primary or caucus. That means there's really only 120 super delegates in the traditional sense. Those 120 insiders have the power to put Mitt Romney over the top, if they need to do so, they almost certainly will. Romney, by AP's delegate count, has nearly five times as many super delegate supporters as his opponents combined. With roughly 80 super delegates keeping mum about their preferences (AP says the number is 77, National Journal says it is 81), Romney has a safety valve if he can't win enough delegates at the ballot box.
But we already knew that Mitt Romney was in a dominant position to secure the nomination. The question that hasn't been as clearly explored is whether Romney is likely to be able to secure the nomination without the help of super delegate insiders. Based on the numbers so far, it looks as though there's a pretty good chance he can't do it.
Overall, there will be 2,286 voting delegates at the RNC in Tampa, 120 of whom will be uncommitted super delegates. To win the nomination without any support from super delegate free agents, you need 1,144 of of 2,166 delegates—52.8 percent.
Thus far, AP estimates that Mitt Romney has won 563 delegates. Thirty-three of them, however, are super delegates. That means Romney has won 530 delegates from primary or caucus voters. The states that have already voted had 1,072 delegates, excluding super delegates, so Romney has won 49.4 percent of non-super delegates. That's below the pace he needs to be winning at in order to be able to secure the nomination without super delegate insiders.
At this point, to secure the nomination without super delegates, Romney would need to win 614 of the 1,195 delegates left to be selected—51.4 percent. That's more than the 49.4 percent he's been winning, but there's a wrinkle: 101 of those 1,195 delegates are unallocated delegates from states that have already voted or begun selecting delegates. Eighty-two of those delegates are from Missouri and Louisiana, both of which Rick Santorum won by large margins. Mitt Romney is therefore unlikely to to win anywhere close to half of those 101 unallocated delegates.
If we're generous and assume that Romney will win 30 of those 101 delegates, he'd still be 584 delegates short of the magic number with 1,094 delegates yet to be selected by Republican voters. To secure the nomination without super delegates he'd need to win 53.3 percent of those delegates. Purely based on Romney's performance so far, he's not likely to hit that mark.
Unless Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich withdraw or Republican primary voters surge to Romney, Romney will finish around 30 delegates short of the magic number. And as the National Journal article points out, Romney will easily get enough support from super delegates to push him over the top. In fact, he already has enough of their support based on current trends, and for Santorum or Gingrich to deny Romney the nomination, they'll have to win enough delegates to put Romney more than 100 short of the magic number. Otherwise, the super delegates can still give it to Romney.
Mitt Romney may have the weakest base of support of any Republican nominee in memory, but he's got even weaker opponents, and thanks to the super delegates, he's got a strong lock on the nomination.