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Rick Santorum’s Delegates

ABC’s Chris Good examines “The Fate of Rick Santorum’s Delegates.”

Now that Rick Santorum is out of the race, what happens to his delegates?

Santorum has 285 delegates, according to the latest ABC News delegate estimate, second to Mitt Romney’s 661. He captured the majority of them by winning 10 states-11 if you count Missouri’s nonbinding primary, which the candidate counted in his bowing-out speech on Tuesday.

But some of those delegates were never really “his.” ABC estimates that 78 Santorum delegates, from his wins in states that don’t “award” their delegates – Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, and North Dakota, would have been free to support any candidate at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Another two of Santorum’s delegates were Republican National Committee superdelegates, who will attend the convention by virtue of their positions in the party, and are also free to support whomever they choose in Tampa.

Santorum won seven more delegates from unbound caucus states Washington and Wyoming.

He won another 10 delegates from Illinois, where they would not be required by state or national-party rule to vote for Santorum in Tampa, either, although Santorum’s campaign presented their names and qualifying signatures to the state board of elections.

That leaves 188 Santorum delegates heading to Tampa. They’ll be required to vote for him, unless he chooses to release them, according to state-party rules.

Even if Santorum endorses Romney, that doesn’t mean he can gift all of his delegates to his former rival. Should Santorum elect to release his delegates, they’ll become free agents, able to support whichever candidate they choose.

Fascinating. Of course, the real answer is “It doesn’t matter.” With Ron Paul as the only remaining challenger in the race, Romney will easily have enough delegates to win on the first ballot. The convention vote will therefore be the inevitable crowning of the nominee that it’s been every go-round since 1980.

Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul will likely “release” their delegates, almost all of whom would then vote for the inevitable nominee. But, again, even if they all decided to vote for, say, Allen West, it wouldn’t matter: Romney will easily have all the delegates he needs.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.