Rick Santorum's Focus In Delegate Fight With Mitt Romney: State Conventions

WASHINGTON -- Rick Santorum's newly hired delegate counter released a memo Monday that showed the former Pennsylvania senator's campaign is increasingly focused on one thing as the key to challenging Mitt Romney: state conventions.

"The state conventions will ultimately determine the outcome of this race," wrote John Yob, who was hired by Santorum this month to oversee his delegate operation.

Yob, who was deputy political director for Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign, wrote a more than 2,000 word memo to lay out the Santorum campaign's view that time is on their side, rather than running out. The Santorum campaign first released the memo to Politico's Mike Allen early Monday morning.

Yob's messaging memo is intended in some part to relieve any pressure on Santorum to win both Mississippi and Alabama's primaries on Tuesday. But Yob's memo also lays out a case for how the process of electing delegates to the national convention in Tampa, Fla., this August could reduce the lead Romney currently has in the race to reach the magic number: 1,144.

"The election of the actual delegates at county, state, and district caucuses is now more important than the primaries -- regardless of what the media covers as determinative," Yob wrote.

"Romney has a delegate problem," he wrote. "He will have a very hard time getting his moderate supporters elected as delegates in these convention systems."

This argument is the counterpoint to what The Huffington Post has already reported, that getting delegates elected to the national convention in a closely contested race -- from the first round of voting, to county or congressional district conventions, and then to state conventions -- requires a great deal of organization.

The rules governing whether the preferences of voters will be represented in how delegates vote at the national convention are very loose. Especially in caucus states, many delegates are not "bound," or in other words, they can technically vote in many cases for whoever they choose. Rules, practices and precedents vary from state to state, making the national map a confusing jumble.

President Obama's 2008 delegate director, Jeff Berman, oversaw a muscular, well-funded and well-prepared outfit that helped Obama beat Hillary Clinton in a close-fought race for delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination. Berman wrote a recently released book about his efforts called, "The Magic Number."

But Yob's case, and the Santorum campaign's, is that organization is not worth much if there is no grassroots passion for the candidate. They have honed in on a key difference between former Massachusetts Gov. Romney and Obama: Romney has organization but little grassroots passion, while Obama had both.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) also has both, and is expected to be a major factor at state conventions. In fact, if Yob is right, and Romney does have trouble nominating delegates to state conventions, Santorum will not have a clear path precisely because Paul supporters have been working for months, if not years, to position themselves to have maximum impact at state conventions.

Yob argued in his memo that "the lack of grassroots support that plagued [Romney's] caucus states operation, and plagued his small donor operation, will now plague his national delegate election operation."

"Rick Santorum has excelled in caucuses and small dollar contributions and therefore will also excel at state conventions where activists are more conservative than the average primary voter," he wrote.

Yob said that "the Romney operation collapsed" in Iowa on Saturday, when there were conventions in all 99 counties that voted to send delegates to the state convention on June 16. But Yob did not offer any proof of this, and has not responded to requests that he give some evidence for this assertion.

And Jesse Benton, Paul's national campaign chairman, laid into Santorum in an e-mail to The Huffington Post on Sunday, responding to Santorum's claim that he will win the "vast majority" of Iowa's 28 delegates once the state convention is held.

"Santorum's campaign is extremely disorganized," Benton said. "They have simply not done the work to win, train and elect delegates to the state convention process."

Yob's memo seems to count on Santorum catching fire with the grassroots to a degree that so far he has not. Santorum has gained ground and is favored by what seems to be a growing portion of the GOP base. But he has yet to light the match, and the longer he goes without doing so, the bigger a question it becomes of whether he can.

Ultimately, as BuzzFeed's Zeke Miller pointed out, Yob's memo lays out a path to a contested convention more than anything else. Yob made this point rather explicitly.

"If the convention goes multiple ballots, it is likely that a conservative candidate like Rick Santorum will gain votes on the 2nd and 3rd ballots whereas a moderate candidate like Mitt Romney will lose votes," Yob wrote, referring to the national convention.

"Mitt Romney must have a majority on the first ballot in order to win the nomination because he will perform worse on subsequent ballots as grassroots conservative delegates decide to back the more conservative candidate. Subsequently, Santorum only needs to be relatively close on the initial ballot in order to win on a later ballot as Romney’s support erodes."