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Question of organization: Santorum faces Super Tuesday delegate woes

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum hopes to make a strong showing on Super Tuesday to prove he has staying power in the Republican nominating race, but his campaign’s failure to meet filing requirements in Ohio and Virginia means Santorum will not compete for at least 55 of the delegates at stake Super Tuesday.

Along with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Santorum failed to meet filing requirements to get on Virginia’s primary ballot. He will forego competing for all of Virginia’s 46 delegates at stake on Super Tuesday.

In Ohio, Santorum did not file slates of delegates in three of the state’s 16 congressional districts. Two of the districts are the sixth and 13th districts, both close Santorum’s home region of western Pennsylvania.

The way Ohio’s delegate allocation system works, its 66 delegates are split into three categories: 48 congressional district delegates, 15 at-large delegates, and three Republican National Committee delegates who remain unpledged. The 15 At-Large delegates are awarded proportionally based on the statewide vote, with candidates needing a minimum of 20% of the vote to be eligible for delegates. The 48 congressional district delegates are split up among the state’s 16 districts, with three delegates per district. For those delegates, all three of a district’s delegates are awarded to the winner of that district’s vote. With Santorum ineligible for congressional district delegates in three districts, he will not compete for a combined nine delegates.

In addition, Santorum did not file full slates of delegates in a handful of other districts. In the third, fourth, eighth, 10th, 12th, and 16th districts, Santorum is missing a combined total of nine delegates. But if Santorum wins those districts, he will not necessarily automatically be ineligible for the delegates he is missing.

According to an Ohio GOP source, if Santorum wins the district-wide vote in congressional districts, where he submitted fewer than three delegates, he will get however many delegates he submitted. The leftover delegates will remain unallocated until one of the campaigns brings a contest. The campaigns will make their case for the delegates to a three-person Contest Committee appointed by state Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine. Ultimately, the Contest Committee will make a recommendation to the state’s 66 person Central Committee, which will vote to determine the final allocation of the unallocated delegates.

The prospect of a contested group of delegates comes amidst an acrimonious fight over Michigan’s two at-large delegates. In a meeting after last week’s primary, the Michigan Republican Party determined that the state’s two at-large delegates would both go to Mitt Romney, despite previous statements by the party that the two delegates would be split proportionally.

Santorum also failed to file a full slate of delegates in Tennessee, but Adam Nickas, a spokesman for the state GOP, says Santorum will still get all the delegates he earns on primary night. If Santorum does not have enough names on his slate for the number of delegates he wins, says Nickas, the state party will fill the slots afterward in consultation with the Santorum campaign.

Today the Romney campaign seized on the failures in an attempt to paint the Santorum campaign as unfit for the organizational rigors of a long campaign. In a series of memos and conference calls, the Romney campaign highlighted not only Santorum’s setbacks in Virginia and Ohio, but a failure to get on the ballot in the District of Columbia, an incomplete delegate slate in Illinois, and the lack of a full delegate slate in Tennessee, another Super Tuesday state.

In a conference call with reporters, Romney National Counsel Ben Ginsberg said the ballot failures show Santorum is not organizationally equipped to face President Obama in the fall.

“Getting on the ballot … is a true test, especially for Republican primary voters to look at, whether a candidate’s ready for primetime,” Ginsberg said. “What’s evident from what’s going to happen on Super Tuesday and beyond, is that Rick Santorum flunks that test.”

Today the Santorum campaign responded, saying the campaign is more about message than organization and infrastructure.

"The Romney campaign is just throwing another temper tantrum, because they're a little confused and frustrated as to why they can’t buy this election,” Santorum Communications Director Hogan Gidley said in an email to NBC News today. “This election is not about who has the most money -- or who has the most infrastructure. It’s about electing a president who inspires and believes in the American people instead of the government control.”

NBC’s Andrew Rafferty contributed to reporting.