POLITICO Playbook by Mike Allen
THE CONVERSATION: A tippy-top Republican, unprompted, yesterday sketched the germ of a plan for a new candidate if Rick Santorum upsets Mitt Romney in the Michigan primary on Feb. 28. Our friend brought visual aids: chicken-scratched versions of prosaic documents that are circulating among GOP insiders like nuclear-code sheets: In case of mayhem, break glass!
Most reporters still think Romney "will find a way to win Michigan." Nevertheless, some of the nation's most powerful Republicans are poring over filing deadlines and pondering worst-case scenarios.
Our friend handed us a printout of FEC deadlines for ballot access, with five of them circled and starred: California (March 23), Montana (March 12), New Jersey (April 2), New Mexico (March 16) and South Dakota (March 27). The point: Even after Feb. 28, it might be possible to assemble a Hail Mary candidacy that could garner enough delegates to force a CONTESTED convention (a different nuance than BROKERED, which implies that someone is in charge).
Under RNC rules, the delegate count builds slowly: just 15% before Super Tuesday, March 6; 19% through Super Tuesday (brings you to 34%); 17% in the rest of March (brings you to 51%); with 48% in April, May and June (21%, 12%, 15%).
Our friend said: "If somebody came on the scene that week after Super Tuesday with, 'I'm coming in. I'm taking a look at this,' there are enough delegates. He would suck all the oxygen out of the race. People wouldn't even give a shit who won on these other dates in March that are after Super Tuesday. I mean, seriously, who would care? It would all be about a new savior."
AT THAT VERY MOMENT, ABC'S JONATHAN KARL was at the Capitol, having a conversation that resulted in this Richter-rattler: "A prominent Republican senator just told me that if Romney can't win in Michigan, the Republican Party needs to go back to the drawing board and convince somebody new to get into the race. 'If Romney cannot win Michigan, we need a new candidate,' said the senator, who has not endorsed anyone ...
"The senator believes Romney will ultimately win in Michigan but says he will publicly call for the party to find a new candidate if he does not. 'We'd get killed,' the senator said if Romney manages to win the nomination after he failed to win the state in which he grew up. 'He'd be too damaged' ... Santorum? 'He'd lose 35 states,' the senator said, predicting the same fate for Newt Gingrich. It would have to be somebody else, the senator said. Who? 'Jeb Bush.'"
THE NARRATIVE -- AP's Steve Peoples, in Mason Ohio: "Santorum is raising the stakes in the GOP nomination race in Ohio, declaring the state 'ground zero' as he ... campaigns for one of Super Tuesday's [March 6] biggest prizes. ... Questions about whether Santorum can sustain his rise in the polls come amid signs of stress within his campaign, mainly disorganization. Romney's mammoth political machine -- coupled with new scrutiny for Santorum's view of social issues as well as governmental policies -- will give Santorum little margin for error."