With Mitt Romney on track for a pair of victories in contests this week in Florida and Nevada, could the race for the GOP nomination begin to wind down?
The party establishment is increasingly hopeful that the answer is yes. But mathematically, at least, the answer is clearly no.
A candidate needs to amass 1,144 delegates to clinch the nomination, and just 37 have been allocated so far based on the primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina (Iowa has not awarded any yet based on the Jan. 3 caucuses).
Another 50 delegates are at stake in Florida’s primary Tuesday, to be awarded on a winner-take all basis. And 28 delegates are up for grabs this weekend when Republicans caucus in Nevada.
A new Quinnipiac University poll out Monday morning again shows the former Massachusetts governor expanding his lead to 14 points, from 9 points days earlier. Other polls show Romney’s lead within a range of 5 to 16 points.
Nevada, meanwhile, is one of the few early states Romney won in his 2008 campaign, and few expect the other candidates to threaten his advantage there.
While Romney may still lack a clear delegate edge by week’s end, he’ll be heavy with momentum. Establishment Republicans eager to move on from the intra-party squabbling can be expected to continue their pleas for the party to close ranks.
The key question then for other candidates is whether they can remain viable in what will be an unusual dead period for several weeks.
Contests on Feb. 7 in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri will not immediately determine how those states’ Republicans vote at the party’s August convention. So the next real battlegrounds are Arizona and Michigan, which don’t vote until Feb. 28.
Super Tuesday follows a week later, with primaries in Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia, and caucuses in Idaho and North Dakota.
Newt Gingrich, whose momentum stalled after a double-digit win in South Carolina, certainly seems likely to keep fighting.
“We will go all the way to the convention,” Gingrich told reporters Sunday. “This is going to be a straight-out contest for the next four or five months.”
He also isn’t ready to concede Florida, telling CBS’ Charlie Rose on Monday morning that things are closing in the final hours.
“When Floridians learn that George Soros thinks that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are both OK, but that Newt Gingrich is really a threat because he’d be a genuine conservative ... I think in the next 24 hours you’re going to see this change,” he said.
Rick Santorum is giving up on Florida, but vowing publicly to stay in the race for at least another week. His campaign schedule calls for him to stop in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri in the next 48 hours before spending Florida primary night in Las Vegas.
And then, of course, there’s Ron Paul, who is fighting for every delegate he can win between now and the final primary in June. He was the only candidate to spend part of his weekend in Maine, which is holding caucuses through Saturday.
[For the record, 10:56 a.m., Jan. 30: An earlier version of this post said Arizona and Michigan would be holding their primaries on Feb. 29. The contests are on Feb. 28.]