Rick Santorum greets supporters during a campaign stop in Dixon, Ill.,… (Kamil Krzaczynski / EPA )
Even if Rick Santorum won the presidential preference vote in Tuesday's Illinois Republican primary -- and polls indicate that it's actually Mitt Romney who is the favorite -- he still could lose out in the delegate race.
Why? Of all the states that choose presidential nominating delegates in a primary election, the rules governing the process in Illinois may be among the most complicated, requiring Republicans to actually indicate presidential preference twice on their ballot.
First is a "beauty contest" vote between six hopefuls -- a list that includes Rick Perry and Buddy Roemer, candidates that have long since abandoned their candidacies for the GOP nomination.
The second vote is the one that really counts in the delegate game. Depending on the district, voters will choose two, three or four delegates who've pledged support for one of those candidates.
Ultimately, 69 delegates from Illinois will go to Tampa, Fla., for the Republican convention. But only 54 of them will be determined Tuesday.
So why is Santorum at a disadvantage? He's only eligible to win 44 of the 54 total delegates at stake Tuesday, because he failed to come up with delegates who'd support him in four of the state's 18 districts -- the Chicago-based 4th, 5th and 7th districts, and the downstate 13th district that includes Springfield.
Santorum downplayed the organizational flaw Monday in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," saying that at the time of the filing period in Illinois he was running a shoestring operation, with limited resources. Simply getting on the ballot took several staffers and tens of thousands of dollars.
"The couple of states we had trouble getting on were really byzantine rules," he said. "For an organization that was purely volunteer as we were in Illinois, Ohio and Virginia, it was harder for us.... It's amazing that we're on the ballots we are given how difficult these rules are from state to state."
Illinois' 15 at-large delegates will be awarded not based on the statewide popular vote, but in a vote at the Illinois Republican Party's state convention later this June. The final three delegates are the state party elected leadership.
All of the delegates from Illinois, even the specific ones chosen in the congressional districts, will technically remain unbound through the convention. But most will likely remain committed to their chosen candidate.
Mitt Romney has the clear advantage among the 1,060 delegates from states and territories that have voted thus far. According to the Republican National Committee, Romney has 436, Santorum has 170, Newt Gingrich has 133 and Ron Paul has 26. Another 304 delegates remain unbound, largely from caucus states.
Illinois primary: Delegate rules favor Mitt Romney