Santorum Fiddles With Delegate Counts as Illinois Burns

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Rick Santorum's campaign chose to howl Tuesday about proper delegate counts as it trailed by a wide margin in the Illinois primary.

As Illinois Republicans voted Tuesday for their preferred nominee, Santorum's senior strategist protested about unfair delegate counts by the media and Mitt Romney.

Rick Santorum

"Most of the media accounts that you see out there, and certainly the Romney count, for whatever reason choose to make their assessments based on the straw polls that do not have an impact rather than the county conventions, the district conventions that do have an impact," John Brabender said in a conference call.

Santorum, though, has ridden surprise momentum on a few occasions in this 2012 GOP race due in part to his performances in non-binding straw polls.

Brabender said that the campaign's latest delegate counts are out now because district and county conventions were just launched in some states.

Iowa, where he staged a charge only a few days before the Jan. 3 caucuses, leaned in favor of Santorum by a mere tenth of a percentage point in the statewide straw poll. The state didn't allot any binding delegates that day. Iowa counties convened on March 10 for county conventions to choose delegates for the district and state conventions, but none of those delegates are binding. Iowa won't select a single national delegate until June 16.

In Minnesota and Colorado, where Santorum grabbed shocking victories on Feb. 7, the votes were, again, for non-binding straw polls. Minnesota has been holding its Basic Political Organization Unit Conventions since Feb. 17, and will go through March 31, but this is to choose delegates for district and state conventions. National delegates won't begin to be chosen until April 14. A similar process has yet to unfold in Colorado, where county "assemblies" gather March 28 to choose delegates for the district and state conventions. Colorado's first national delegates won't be chosen until April 12.

Even Missouri, where Santorum handily won a Feb. 7 primary that had no bearing at all on the state's 52 national delegates, won't finish county caucuses until Saturday. County caucuses, like the other aforementioned states, choose delegates for district and state conventions where national delegates will be officially chosen in April and June.

"We do assume that some of the folks who are keeping these counts will begin to keep the counts based on the relevant processes, rather than the irrelevant processes," Brabender said.

Brabender and Santorum's campaign are correct to point out that delegate counts tallied by The Associated Press, NBC and other news outlets are speculative. Media delegate tallies are often based on proportion of the straw polls' popular vote. The straw polls that typically preface the tiresome caucus processes, which actually chooses binding delegates.

As it stands, Romney leads Santorum 521 to 253 delegates, while Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul trail with 136 and 50, respectively, according to the AP.

Prospects appear grimmer when delegate counts eliminate all the non-binding straw polls that Santorum won: Romney 339, Gingrich 107, Santorum 95 and Paul 22.

Santorum has 158 less delegates as reported by state parties to the Republican National Committee.

When asked why the campaign had used an hour to stage a conference call about delegate math on the same day of Illinois' important primary, a Santorum aide said in a phone call that it was meant to put things into perspective.

"We're quite a bit closer to Gov. Romney than the major media points out a lot of the time, and I think once these state conventions start coming through you're going to start seeing some numbers that are a little bit different than what is being put out there," the aide said.

Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley said in the conference call that the campaign was "not focused on delegate math."

Of Illinois' 69 total delegates, only 54 are at stake on Tuesday . The state will allot the remainder in June. Through Tuesday, Santorum trailed Romney by 10 percentage points in an average of Illinois surveys, according to RealClearPolitics.com.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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