Flat February: No need to head for the exits

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The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating interactive graphic, with stair-steps showing how allocated Republican delegates accumulate over time in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. It's striking to see how far to the right everything has moved this year. The massive step up on Tsunami Tuesday (February 3, 2008) has moved a month to the right for 2012 and is not nearly as tall. (It's even shorter now that Texas's primary has been moved from Super Tuesday to April, delayed by a redistricting lawsuit.)

What's especially striking is how flat February is. From February 1 to February 27, only 119 delegates will be allocated, according to the WSJ's graphic. But they're including, incorrectly, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, and Nevada in that total. Those states hold precinct caucuses to elect delegates to county or state legislative district conventions. A presidential straw poll will be held, but, as in Iowa, it won't be binding.


The Green Papers uncharacteristically gets one wrong, stating that Nevada's delegates will be bound, proportionally by the results of the presidential preference poll. (That appears to be based on this Republican National Committee summary of all allocation rules, which also gets Nevada wrong.) But the FAQ page on the official Nevada GOP caucus website makes it clear that the final result is contingent on the multi-stage process of electing delegates to the county, district, and state conventions:

All Delegates and alternate delegates elected at the precinct caucus will meet in March at their county conventions. The county convention will then elect delegates to represent them at the State Convention on May 5-6th. And it's at the State Convention where the delegates and alternates get elected to the Republican National Convention on August 27-30th.

Since delegates generally vote for other delegates who support the same candidate as they do, it's advantageous for a candidate to elect as many people as possible as delegates at the precinct caucuses. The more delegates a candidate has after the precinct caucuses in February, the greater the chance they will have the most delegates from Nevada to the National Convention on August 27-30th.

(UPDATE 2012/01/23: In the comments, Nevada blogger Michael P. Chamberlain mentions that he spoke to a state party official about the allocation rule:

I received confirmation today from the [Nevada Republican Party]'s Caucus Director that Nevada's delegates to the National Convention will be allocated (and bound for the first ballot) by the state-wide results of the Presidential Preference Poll that is part of the caucus on February 4.

I've asked Michael to see if he can get some additional details: The text of the basis (rule, resolution) that defines how delegates will be allocated, whether there will be a threshold, and how rounding is handled.)

So where does that leave the race?

Romney still has a poll lead in Florida, and money matters because of the ten media markets that a candidate must cover, so let's figure that he wins. Given that, what will the pledged delegate count be on February 28, going into Arizona and Michigan?

Romney 59
Gingrich 23
Paul 3
Huntsman 2

In this scenario, Romney will have only 59 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination.

Remember that Iowa's delegates are not pledged. New Hampshire's were allocated proportionally. It appears that Romney won a single South Carolina congressional district, and with it, two delegates.

On to February 28:

Michigan's 30 delegates would have been allocated by congressional district (3 each, winner take all) and statewide (proportionally with a 15% threshhold), but it has lost half of its delegates for jumping the gun, and it's unclear how that will affect allocation. Arizona, in the same boat, opted to shift to Winner-Take-All statewide. Romney's father George was governor of Michigan and an auto executive, so he's likely to win nearly all the delegates either way.

I've already seen a couple of tweets suggesting that Santorum may as well get out of the race now. That would be silly. As former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted on Saturday night:

Santorum's thought bubble: I can win this because Newt will blow up Romney, & Newt will also blow up Newt. That leaves me.

Were I in Rick Santorum's inner circle, I'd suggest he spend most of February raising money and focused on winning Arizona and preparing for a few Super Tuesday states (like Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee). A good showing in some of the February non-binding caucuses would be a good thing, too.

Santorum has an entire month to promote his recent endorsements by evangelical leaders. They came too late to affect the Stop-Romney tactical move to Gingrich in South Carolina, and they haven't yet arrived in a way that connects with the targeted voters. An email in a homeschooling mom's inbox about an endorsement by a particular leader she admires, forwarded by another mom in the homeschool co-op, will have far more impact than the 10-second generic mention of "evangelical leaders" on CNN a week earlier.

February also gives Santorum plenty of time to position himself as the most electable candidate remaining in the race. Romney doesn't excite the party's core voters. Democrats and Independents already think they know Newt, from the 1990s, and they don't like him. The phrase "First Lady Callista Gingrich" may begin to sink in and worry Republican voters, too.

If Santorum were to win Arizona and Romney win Michigan, Santorum would pass Gingrich for second place in the delegate count going into Super Tuesday:

Romney 89
Santorum 29
Gingrich 23
Paul 3
Huntsman 2

By my count, 420 bound delegates will be allocated on Super Tuesday, March 6, and by GOP rules it has to be done by some proportional method. It would be mathematically impossible for anyone to reach a majority of bound delegates until after the April 24th primaries, and that's only if someone sweeps the board. Since many of the April states also use proportional allocation, that's unlikely.

The good news for those of us not in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Florida is that we'll still have a meaningful choice to make when it's our turn to vote. If nothing else, we can keep voting to frustrate the front runner of the moment, to ensure no one locks up the nomination before Tampa.

And if it turns out that we're still not happy with our choices in a month's time, there are some interesting scenarios. I haven't checked, but I suspect there are still many late-season primaries for which the filing deadline has not yet passed, meaning someone new could get in, take a bunch of delegates, and be in a strong position to contend for unpledged delegates leading up to the national convention. Many early states will still have dropped-out candidates on the ballot; one of them could revive their campaign, or people could use one of the ex-candidates as a place for none-of-the-above supporters to vote their preferences.

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The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating interactive graphic, with stair-steps showing how allocated Republican delegates accumulate over time in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. It's striking to see how far to the right everything has moved this year. The... Read More

Florida turned out as expected, but as I wrote right after South Carolina, there's no need for anyone of the remaining candidates to head for the exits. Mitt Romney's campaign is restarting the inevitability bandwagon. Pundits are falling over each oth... Read More


Graychin said:

Gingrich is going to win Florida, and pretty much run the table in the deeply red Southern states. The polls already show a huge bump for Newt in Florida, and Romney has to survive two more debates this week.

A late entry in to the race is the least likely scenario. There isn't time to build an organization. That ship has sailed. If you want to vote for Not Romney, it's either Newt or Santorum. (Or Paul, but he's definitely an outlier.)

The ship that has NOT sailed is a deadlocked convention. If Ron Paul and/or Santorum get enough delegates to keep either Romney or Newt from locking up a majority, then the convention might turn its lonely eyes to...

Jeb Bush!

Or is the word "Bush" still unmentionable in polite Republican circles?


Reading this post spurred me to do some digging because what you quote from the FAQ on the Nevada Republican Party website seems to be different from what I had been told.

I received confirmation today from the NRP's Caucus Director that Nevada's delegates to the National Convention will be allocated (and bound for the first ballot) by the state-wide results of the Presidential Preference Poll that is part of the caucus on February 4.

Thanks, Michael, for checking into that. I'll note the correction in the main body of the post. Could your contact provide documentation -- an excerpt from the rules, a resolution -- that spells that out? In trying to find out the rules that each state party is following, I'm finding that a state party's website often lacks information or is way out of date.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 22, 2012 10:52 PM.

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