Two days after winning the popular vote in the Michigan primary, Mitt Romney has also been declared the victor in a bitter fight for the state's GOP national convention delegates.

After lengthy behind-the-scenes wrangling, the Michigan Republican Party announced Thursday afternoon that Romney would receive 16 delegates and Rick Santorum would get 14.

Romney won the popular vote by less than three percentage points, and the two men split the state's 14 congressional districts, each of which awarded two delegates to the winner.

Some of the district races were extremely close, with Santorum winning the 1st District, which includes the Upper Peninsula, by just 790 votes out of more than 80,000 cast. Romney won another district, the 5th, by just 452 votes out of more than 54,000.

The delay was apparently due, in part, to differing interpretations over the division of the state's two at-large delegates, which were supposed to be awarded to the candidate with the most votes statewide, in this case, Romney.

Delegate rules can get extremely complicated, especially when — as was the case with Michigan — the original plan had to be revised because the state decided to move its primary up to February. That gave Michigan the attention that party leaders (and presumably the Romney campaign) wanted, but also resulted in a penalty from the Republican National Committee for violating the national delegate-selection plan.

Because of the penalty, Michigan's delegation to the national convention was cut from 59 delegates to 30 (in reality, the full Michigan contingent will go to Tampa, Fla., in August, but if current rules hold only 30 will be authorized to vote on the convention floor). Of those 30 delegates, 28 were awarded, winner-take-all, on a district-by-district basis, creating a 14-14 tie.

That left the two at-large delegates to be divvied up — or not.

Under one interpretation of the state's delegate plan, if the outcome of the statewide vote was sufficiently close, each of the top two finishers would get one delegate each. Under that interpretation, the result would have been a delegate tie, with Romney and Santorum receiving 15 each.

Thus, the struggle over deciding who won the at-large delegates amounted to a fight over one delegate out of 2,286 voting delegates at the Republican National Convention — and, of course, bragging rights for Santorum if he had fought Romney to a delegate draw in his home state.

Delegates, after all, are what primaries and caucuses and nomination races are ultimately all about. But as the Santorum forces have learned, to their detriment, perception and momentum matter more, at least in the early stages of the campaign.

Santorum won the Iowa caucuses in early January. But it took more than two weeks for the party to declare him the victor, by which point the value of his achievement had been seriously degraded.

Over the past two days, Santorum has boasted that he prevented Romney from winning most of the delegates in his native state, a claim that was also erroneously reported by news organizations, including the Associated Press and CNN.

paul.west@latimes.com