Monday, March 5, 2012

The (Delegate) Keys to Super Tuesday

FHQ had the honor of giving a brief talk on the 2012 presidential primary process at the Microsoft campus in Charlotte this afternoon. Even though I didn't really follow my notes -- yielding to the more fun Q&A session -- I thought I would share.1

Here are the things FHQ will be looking for tomorrow night:
  1. Ohio, meh. After talking up the importance of the Ohio primary in the wake of Michigan last week, it has become apparent to me that Ohio is no longer the "new hotness". FHQ can't get all that jazzed up about a non-fight. Look, Romney can't lose. If he wins the statewide race, Romney wins the most delegates. Unless Romney gets blown out there -- something the polls are not showing -- he will likely win or fairly evenly split the delegates. Again, meh. I know, I know. If he loses the statewide vote it looks bad. Eh, big deal. The Romney campaign will point toward the fact that it is a delegate race and that they have more delegates. As they said in their Saturday conference call chiding -- fairly or not -- the Santorum campaign for not being organized enough to fully get on the ballot, they -- the Romney campaign -- are more organized.  
  2. Delegate margins. I know Ohio is a unique contest tomorrow; the only state without regional company or contest-type camaraderie, but it just will not offer much in the way of a delegate margin for any of the candidates. You know which states will? Virginia and maybe Idaho. Virginia is a no-brainer. That Gingrich and Santorum on the ballot there means that Romney will be able to emerge from the Old Dominion with, as I've said previously, a delegate margin that likely offsets the likely losses in the South. And if -- big IF -- Romney is able to get over 50% in the madhouse that is the new Idaho caucuses (more on that later today), then Idaho is likely going to provide the former Massachusetts governor with even more relief. So the next time Newt Gingrich says that Georgia is the biggest delegate prize on Super Tuesday, shout back that delegate margins are more important and Virginia and again, maybe, Idaho are much bigger on that score than a diluted Georgia primary that will likely allocate delegates to three candidates tomorrow. 
  3. Tennessee, now there's the new hotness. Way back after the South Carolina primary (I know. Doesn't that seem like a hundred years ago?), I said that the fundamental question that had emerged was "Can Romney win in the South?" FHQ said then that Romney's ability to answer the "Southern question"would go a long way toward determining how long this fight for the Republican nomination would be. More importantly, I emphasized that it would determine how able Gingrich was to stay in the race. Well, Romney has not had another chance to revisit his loss in South Carolina -- or at least return to similar ground to quell any doubts. Tomorrow is the first chance and Tennessee looks to be Romney's best bet of answering the "Southern question". Romney will get delegates out of Tennessee but a symbolic win in the South would be a backbreaker in a lot of respects for the Gingrich and Santorum causes.
  4. Thresholds, thresholds, thresholds. These 15% and 20% thresholds for receiving delegates in many of the states tomorrow is a big deal. Let me repeat that: It is a big deal. No, I don't think it affects anything other than at the margins, but if we are moving into the delegate counting terrain -- even if for a short period of time -- then the ways in which the delegate leader can use those rules to his advantage are noteworthy. The greater the number of candidates over that threshold, the smaller the delegate margins/piece of the delegate pie will be. If, for example, Romney is first or second but no worse, but it is only him and another candidate over 15% or 20% then Romney is only padding his delegate total. And while the margins may not increase greatly, it pushes the former Massachusetts governor closer to 1144.
  5. Will it end tomorrow? No. But we are likely to surpass a significant hurdle tomorrow night and into Wednesday. FHQ will have more on that later. 
Ooh, cliffhanger.

1 Yeah, I know. These primers are a dime a dozen the day before any primary day.

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