While the imponderable factor is how GOP elites might respond to a major upset of Mitt Romney by Rick Santorum in the remaining contests, or to painfully slow accumulation of delegates by the front-runner, or to significant erosion of Mitt’s general-election standing, it remains unlikely in the short-term that the dynamics of the race will change.
Yes, we’ll all make a big deal out of what happens in Illinois, particularly if Santorum wins. But the path after Illinois, in the events held in April, gets a lot tougher for Rick. That’s made tangible in a new analysis at Sabato’s Crystal Ball that predicts Romney will pick up over two-thirds of the delegates awarded between now and the end of April, even assuming Santorum wins his home state of Pennsylvania (hardly a gimme) and also in Louisiana, while doing relatively well in Illinois. The April calendar just includes too many places (DC, MD, DE, CT, NY, RI) where Santorum has little chance.
To stay in the race, Santorum needs to hold on until the contest turns South again–but that doesn’t happen until May (when NC, WV, AR, KY and TX all vote). Rick better hope Romney keeps committing unforced errors and that Mitt’s Establishment friends keep raising expectations that the very next primary will end it all.