Will the Republican nomination process ever end?

After another split decision, this time in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, the prospect of the GOP choosing a candidate any time soon seems remote. Mitt Romney continues to tout his substantial delegate lead (and the immovable laws of mathematics) as proof that he will be the nominee, but his opponents have not been dissuaded.

Despite a steady drumbeat of calls to step aside and allow Rick Santorum to challenge Romney alone, Newt Gingrich is as defiant as ever. He has brushed off poor showings in the south, a presumed region of strength where he has only managed to win his home state of Georgia, and suggested that critics are simply unable to grasp the magnitude of his candidacy.

The thing I find most disheartening about this campaign is the difficulty of talking about positive ideas on a large scale because the news media can't cover it and candidly, my opponents can't comprehend it, Gingrich said in Illinois. The result is you can't have a serious conversation. It doesn't fit. It doesn't count. It is as though it doesn't occur.

Super PACS Elongate Candidates' Shelf-Life

Trademark grandiosity aside, Gingrich has been able to stick around in part because of the much-discussed ascendance of Super PACs. The newly empowered entities can accept unlimited amounts of donations, and although they are prohibited from coordinating with campaigns Super PACs supporting the various candidates have played a large role in sustaining campaigns that might otherwise have withered. The billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has poured millions into the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future Super PAC.

But outside money isn't the only thing shaping this protracted, unpredictable primary. There's also the simple matter of how states award the delegates that are crucial to securing the nomination.

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has acknowledged as much. Thanks to a rule change Steele presided over, states now award delegates proportionately, rather than on a winner-take-all basis.

That has helped prolong the primary, with candidates able to pick up delegates -- and point to that gain as a sign they are viable -- without needing to win states outright. So it was that Santorum won nearly as many delegates as Romney in the heavily contested Michigan and Ohio contests despite Romney securing the statewide vote; likewise, Romney, Gingrich and Santorum essentially split Missisippi's delegate pool.

Steele seems pleased with the fractured results. He told Mother Jones that a little chaos is a good thing, and seemed unfazed by the prospect of a three-way dogfight extending to the Republican nominating convention in August.

Neither of them has a reason nor the incentive to get out as each continues to amass delegates, Steele told the New York Times in reference to Santorum and Gingrich. He added, Mitt will likely find himself having to go toe to toe with Santorum at the same time he's tripping over Newt - all the way to Tampa.

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