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Santorum’s Best Shot May Be Gingrich Remaining in the Race

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Rick Santorum’s wins in Mississippi and Alabama has renewed calls from supporters and pundits for Newt Gingrich to drop out of the Republican presidential primary and allow Santorum a proper one-on-one duel with front-runner Mitt Romney.

But the conventional wisdom may be falling flat in the face of simple math.

Even after Tuesday night’s results, Romney leads the race to the nomination-clinching 1,144 delegates by an overwhelming margin -- 496 to Santorum's 252.  Gingrich follows Santorum with 133 delegates, while Ron Paul is at the bottom with 48. 

With just over 40 percent of the delegates awarded, it would take, as Romney’s aides say, “an act of God” to see their candidate lose his lead.

Given Santorum’s significant delegate deficit, his best hope of consolidating the more conservative vote -- and more importantly, the resulting delegates -- is to have Gingrich stay in the game all the way to the convention floor in Tampa, Fla.

Waiting on the Lord may be an option for Team Santorum, but ganging up with Gingrich might be the better play.  If the former House speaker’s campaign keeps amassing delegates, Gingrich could accrue enough support that, when coupled with Santorum’s, the total meets or exceeds that of the current front-runner.

“The key to Santorum’s strategy is to keep Romney’s delegate count low and keep Santorum close,” says GOP strategist Soren Dayton, who worked with a number of current Santorum advisors on the McCain campaign in 2008. 

While Santorum would rather go it alone in some winner-take-all states like Wisconsin and Maryland (April 3), having Gingrich in the running supports the broader strategy.

Whatever the plan, an official Santorum-Gingrich alliance remains unlikely, according to another Republican operative.  Convention floor shenanigans require the organization and management of a lot of moving pieces, and even with Gingrich vowing to take the fight to Tampa, there’s some doubt anyone in the current field is capable of marshalling all his delegates in such a tense and chaotic setting.

Still, if Gingrich were to leave the race now or in the coming weeks, not only would this option go out the window, but there’s no evidence in current polling that Santorum would benefit from the fallout.  The myth of the “Gingtorum” vote seems to be just that.

Polls done Wednesday night showed no indication that the Gingrich vote would flock, en masse, to Santorum if their guy were to drop out.  In fact, most of the figures show that Gingrich and Santorum voters go to the polls for very different reasons.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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