Rick Santorum, trying to keep his presidential hopes alive despite increasingly long odds, is looking for the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass from Texas Republicans.
Texas party activists, led by Santorum supporters, are waging an uphill battle to change the rules of the May 29 primary so that whoever wins would get all 152 delegates up for grabs. The activists say they have enough support to force an emergency meeting of the State Republican Executive Committee, though major hurdles loom beyond that.
Because of the late date of the request, the Republican National Committee would have to approve the last-ditch move to change the delegate selection process, officials say.
That would be highly unlikely, an RNC official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Thursday. Later, the RNC communications director, Sean Spicer, said that there is "no basis" for a change and that Texas will "remain a proportional state," according to a posting on Twitter from The Washington Post.
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The change might also require approval from the Justice Department.
Under current rules, Texas Republicans award their delegates proportionately, depending on the percentage that each candidate receives in the primary. That means former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney can count on a big share of the delegates even if Santorum wins a majority of the Texas primary vote.
For Santorum, switching to a winner-take-all scenario in Texas -- were he to win the state -- could change the dynamics of a presidential race that he now appears destined to lose.
"Now that is a game-changer for us," Santorum said Wednesday on The Dom Giordano Program, a Pennsylvania radio show. He said that with all the Texas delegates, and perhaps some who would defect from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, "all of a sudden this race doesn't become as long a shot as the media would tend to dictate." Santorum said he favors changing Texas to winner-take-all.
Texas has a total of 155 delegates. Of that, 152 are awarded to the candidates based on the primary vote. Another three are "superdelegates" -- party honchos who can vote for the candidate of their choice. Winning the presidential nomination takes 1,144 delegates.
Several members of the State Republican Executive Committee are pushing the party to hold an emergency meeting to consider the rule change.
If 15 of the 62 members ask for a meeting, party Chairman Steve Munisteri will honor the request, GOP spokesman Chris Elam said.
One of the activists in favor of the rule change, East Texas executive committee member David Bellow, said he supports Santorum and acknowledges that the shift could help him.
But he said he wants to make Texas winner-take-all because the state would become more relevant to the nomination process.
"We're tired of no one caring about us," Bellow said. "We're tired of not getting any debates. We're prepared to take drastic measures." He said that 15 members are willing to ask for an emergency meeting.
Two-thirds of the executive committee members present at the meeting would have to approve it, officials say. But even then, the RNC in Washington would have to grant a waiver to allow it.
Texas already got one waiver to move the primary to May 29. But that was because the courts delayed the primary, originally scheduled for March, while they considered changes to the district maps for Congress and members of the Legislature.
Granting a waiver just to turn Texas into a big GOP battleground -- when party elders like George H.W. Bush are saying it's time to rally behind Romney -- might fall more into the realm of fantasy than political reality. But the move does underscore how much party activists want the Lone Star State to get a little attention in the presidential sweepstakes.