With his comfortable win in Florida, Mitt Romney has now raised his winning percentage in this year’s Republican primaries or caucuses to .500 (with a record of 2-2).
Through the four states contested so far, Romney has won a total of 40 percent of the votes cast, meaning that 60 percent of the votes have been cast for someone else. Here is the total number of votes (and percentages of the vote) that each candidate has received so far, out of a total of 2,633,588 votes cast in the four states:
Mitt Romney, 1,066,221 votes (40 percent)
Newt Gingrich, 813,784 votes (31 percent)
Rick Santorum, 377,454 votes (14 percent)
Ron Paul, 277,290 votes, (11 percent)
Other, 98,839 votes (4 percent)
As the tallies indicate, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have combined for 45 percent of the vote to date — or 5 percentage points more than Romney. This suggests that if the “non-Romney” vote ends up being consolidated around one challenger by the end of March, after which time many of the states will allocate their delegates in winner-take-all fashion, Romney could have a battle on his hands. This would be especially true if Romney (who has yet to secure even 6 percent of the delegates needed to win the nomination) continues to receive below 50 percent of the vote in states that are contested prior to that time, almost all of which are allocating delegates according to the proportion of the votes received.
Which “non-Romney” could eventually emerge as the frontrunner’s most formidable challenger? Gingrich, the winner of the South Carolina primary, has collected far more votes than Santorum to this point, but more than 85 percent of the votes cast so far have been in states that border Gingrich’s home state of Georgia. Santorum, the winner of the Iowa caucuses, edged Gingrich in New Hampshire and also came on strong during the final pre-Florida GOP debate, becoming the first challenger who really hit Romney hard and effectively on his Massachusetts health care overhaul.
Santorum is also much more well liked by the establishment than Gingrich is. He will have the chance to try out for the role of “non-Romney” in next Tuesday’s Missouri primary, a state in which Gingrich isn’t on the ballot. And Santorum might be best situated to benefit from the fact that, since South Carolina (in particular), Romney has focused principally on trying to destroy Gingrich rather than on emphasizing his own record or agenda. Still, Gingrich has clearly been Romney’s most formidable challenger to date, and his phoenix-like quality has consistently defied expectations.
With 46 states left to go, there’s plenty of time to sort out these particulars, rather than trying to declare a winner before the primary season really even gets underway.