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Despite hype Republican race is not close to being over

OK. I'll admit it. After Mitt Romney won all of Florida's 50 delegates and picked up 14 more in Nevada, I kinda packed it in on this analysis and prediction stuff. Boy, was I wrong thanks to Rick Santorum making stealing back momentum with wins in Minnesota and Colorado, while Romney picked up Maine as expected.

In the weeks since, the candidates have been focusing on Michigan, where Romney grew up, with a side order of Arizona. Both states vote Tuesday, and all the experts say Michigan may be a must-win for Romney and Santorum. Could be. Or it could be just another bump in the round along the way.

Let's look at the facts. Romney leads the field with 99 delegates followed by Santorum with 47, Newt Gingrich with 32 and Ron Paul with 20. That means the leader is still less than 10 percent of the way to the 1,144 delegates needed to wrap up Republican nomination. There are 59 delegates up for grabs in Arizona and Michigan. Neither has as many Washington's 43 that are up for grabs Saturday. Together, it's fewer than either Georgia (76) or Ohio (66), which are among the 10 states going to the polls next week on Super Tuesday. In other words, Michigan and Arizona are drops in the bucket that could lead to a tidal wave of momentum.

Romney and Santorum are in a statistical dead heat in the Michigan polling, while Romney has a double-digit lead in Arizona's winner-take-all primary. So even if Santorum gets all the delegates in Michigan, which he won't, Romney would lose only one delegate off his lead... along with the momentum, as the candidate no one gave a chance beats the presumptive nominee in the state where he grew up.

Want to complicate it even more? Gingrich has the polling lead in Georgia, where he rose to political prominence, while Santorum leads in the battleground swing state of Ohio. In other words, at the moment, it's pure chaos.

So how does this shake out?

First the easy part: Romney gets the 29 delegates in the desert. Now the hard part: Michigan.

I think Romney beats Santorum ever so slightly. And I mean EVER so slightly. In the end, I think the two of them will get basically the same number of Michigan delegates with Paul and Gingrich picking up one or two each. As the underdog, Santorum gets the bigger bump of momentum, but with Romney extending his delegate lead, he gets a decent one, too. That means it's still not all wrapped up. All it does is set the stage for Super Tuesday, where things will probably just get muddier.

Don't buy into the hype. No single race in the next week will decide anything, unless someone pulls out an incredibly unexpected blowout win. And then, well, all bets are off.

As for the overall race, my gut tells me that Romney will still wind up as the Republican nominee when all is said and done. Of the candidates remaining, he still has the centrist appeal and still has the political organization in place to get it done unlike everyone else. The problem is that so far in this Republican race, the conventional wisdom has been proven wrong again and again.

By: Kevin Wuzzardo

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