UPDATED Monday 11:30 am ET
Despite Rick Santorum's big win in Kansas Saturday, Mitt Romney wound up splitting the delegates for the day.
Not because of his weak finish in Kansas, but because of his strong showing in the conventions and caucuses in American territories that get to vote for the nominees for president -- Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
NBC News allocated 33 delegates out of Kansas for Santorum. Romney, who barely cleared a necessary 20 percent threshold to win a portion of the delegates in the Sunflower state, gets seven delegates out of Kansas.
But Romney won all of the delegates out of Guam and Northern Mariana Islands (for a total of 18 - nine each) and the vast majority out of the U.S. Virgin Islands (7). That gave him 25. (Three of the unpledged Virgin Islands delegates had already announced their support for Romney, but they were not factored into NBC's delegate count before yesterday's event.)
Add Romney's seven delegates in Kansas, and that's 32. Plus, another three out of Wyoming for 35. Santorum got three out of Wyoming -- and zero out of the territories -- for 36 for the day. (NBC had previously allocated another four delegates for Romney out of Wyoming. If all of Wyoming is factored in, Romney won seven out of that state.)
Some will talk about how Romney has not yet won over very conservative members of the party, and that was evident once again in Kansas. But the reality is, at this point, it's all about the delegates. And Romney has a near-insurmountable advantage going forward over his rivals as long as he maintains his current rate -- and if Newt Gingrich stays in the race.
As long as Gingrich, who said Friday he's going all the way to the convention, stays in, he will split delegates with Santorum, limiting Santorum's ability to even have a shot at making a real run at Romney. At the same time, though, a one-on-one race could also give Romney the opportunity to pick up even more delegates.
Santorum's campaign has had difficulty with how the delegate process works -- as evidenced by Ohio and his zero delegates out of the territories. Romney sent his son Matt to the Pacific Islands. Santorum made no effort there. Santorum will, however, campaign in Puerto Rico (as will Romney), which has 23 delegates and will vote March 18.
Delegates matter. Remember in 2008, Barack Obama won as many delegates out of Idaho as Hillary Clinton did out of New Jersey.