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Is Delegate Race Between Santorum, Romney Closer Than Thought?

Scott Olson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Rick Santorum’s number crunchers are under no illusions that they are facing a tooth-and-nail fight with Mitt Romney over delegates, but their calculations show a significantly narrower gap between the two contenders than most estimates.

The Santorum campaign offered ABC News a sneak peek at their in-house delegate tally, which still shows the former Pennsylvania senator trailing Romney but in a much better position to catch him.

“There is the Romney way of going about the counting and then there is the real way of going about the counting,” John Yob, Santorum’s delegate strategist, said in an interview on Monday.

Here’s how the Santorum campaign sees the standings in the race for delegates:

-- Romney: 435
-- Santorum: 311
-- Gingrich: 158
-- Paul: 91

The Santorum campaign’s version of the count puts them 124 delegates shy of Romney.  By comparison, the ABC News delegate estimate shows Santorum 268 delegates behind Romney.

Here is the ABC News delegate estimate, which tracks closely with tallied kept by other news organizations:

-- Romney: 521
-- Santorum: 253
-- Gingrich: 136
-- Paul: 50
-- Uncommitted: 2

A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to clinch the Republican presidential nomination, and Yob conceded that it is going to be “very difficult for any candidate” to reach that threshold before this summer’s national party convention.

According to the Santorum team’s count, Romney has 86 fewer delegates than in ABC’s estimate; Santorum has 58 more; Newt Gingrich has 22 more; and Ron Paul has 41 more.

So, where does Yob, who played a similar delegate strategy role for John McCain in 2008, come up with the 144 delegate difference?

Their delegate equation largely rests on two key assumptions: First, that Arizona and Florida will eventually allocate their delegates proportionally rather than using their current winner-take-all scheme.  Second, that delegate tallies in Iowa, Missouri and Washington State should be estimated based upon the preliminary results of ongoing county and district conventions, not on the initial “beauty contest” votes.

The Santorum campaign believes they will receive the vast majority of the delegates in Iowa and Missouri and they are seeing signs of encouragement in Washington state.

“We are now far exceeding the perceived delegate counts as laid out by the Romney campaign,” Yob said.  “This is just the beginning.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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