Rick Santorum's campaign released its version of the Republican delegate count on Tuesday, and it shows him with 311 delegates to Mitt Romney's 435. That's a lot better for Santorum and worse for Romney than the totals estimated by many news organizations.
The Associated Press shows 522 delegates for Romney, 252 delegates for Santorum, 136 for Newt Gingrich and 50 for Ron Paul. Santorum's campaign shows Gingrich with 158 delegates and Paul with 91.
The projections, explained to reporters by Santorum delegate strategist John Yob, are based on what the campaign says are early signs of success in the county, district, and state conventions in Iowa, Missouri, and Washington state that will ultimately select delegates to send to the national conventions.
Santorum aides also assume that they will be able to challenge decisions by Florida and Arizona to jump ahead of the Republican National Committee calendar and award their delegates in a winner-take-all system before April 1. If the states are forced to award their delegates proportionally, it would result in a loss of delegates for Romney, who won both primaries.
"Rick Santorum, being the more conservative candidate in the race, would pick up delegates because the folks who attend county, district, and state conventions are more conservative," Yob said on a conference call with reporters. "And a more moderate candidate who doesn't have the support of the grassroots base of the party, like Mitt Romney, would naturally lose delegates as he competes in contests that are made up by more conservative folks."
Yob said that the early results from the county, district, and state conventions taking place in Iowa, Missouri, and Washington showed Santorum performing "very, very well." He also said the campaign saw Rep. Ron Paul of Texas performing "better than his primary numbers" and an "almost utter collapse of Mitt Romney."
The Associated Press reported that Santorum had lost a delegate to Romney in Wyoming. The Romney camp, meanwhile, took issue with Santorum's math. "We knew Sen. Santorum was an economic lightweight, but his problems with numbers are worse than we thought," spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
Santorum has touted his wins in Iowa and Missouri to claim momentum for his campaign. However, Yob on Tuesday called them "beauty contests" with little meaning. "We believe it's prudent, appropriate and really the only legitimate way to do a count is to make projections based on the early results of the county and district conventions that actually do have an impact on the final a national convention delegate count rather than on a beauty contest straw poll that has no impact on the national convention counts," Yob said.
While they acknowledge that under their math it will still be extremely difficult for any candidate to get to the 1,144 delegates required to seal the nomination, Santorum aides said they hope to do well in Arkansas and Kentucky on May 22, and then go on to win Texas and its 155 delegates on May 29.
The contests they mentioned underscore the difficulty of the April calendar for Santorum. Republicans in his home state of Pennsylvania will be voting, but most of the April contests are in northeastern states friendly to Romney.