Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cart Before the Horse: Pennsylvania/Colorado Edition

FHQ realizes that the desire is to jump to the next seemingly consequential contest in the Republican presidential nomination race. And with 72 unbound delegates -- directly and blindly selected on the April 24 primary ballot1 -- on the line in the home state of the current number two in the overall delegate count, that is not entirely unwarranted. [Mostly unwarranted, but not entirely.] But to the folks who said after last week's three contests in Maryland, Washington, DC and Wisconsin that there were no contests between now and April 24, well, there are.

...and contests with delegates on the line.

Sure, one could argue that Colorado has already had its turn in the spotlight, but with district and state assemblies later this week in the Centennial state -- contests that will actually select delegates to attend the Republican National Convention in Tampa -- it means more now than in the earlier non-binding straw poll.2 Of the 36 Colorado delegates, 21 will be on the line in congressional district assemblies on April 12-13 and 12 more (at-large delegates) will be at stake at the state assembly on April 14. The remaining three delegates are automatic delegates who are free to endorse/pledge to whichever candidate they choose. However, both the national committeeman and national committeewoman -- two of the automatic delegates -- will be elected at the state convention as well.

Looking at the precinct caucuses straw poll results, the inclination is to assume -- as the AP has done -- that Rick Santorum will emerge with more delegates. Of course, this ignores the rules of delegate selection in Colorado.3 Now, while the RNC will likely continue to consider the Colorado delegates unbound even after this weekend, this overlooks the fact that, in a change from the 2008 rules, the Colorado Republican Party is allowing delegate candidates to officially pledge themselves to a candidate. Additionally, that pledge is binding through one ballot at the national convention (...or until said candidate is no longer in the race). [That sounds an awful lot like a bound delegate. As such, this will be an interesting test case in terms of the RNC delegate count. The RNC has already counted the Illinois delegates, though technically unbound, toward both Romney's and Santorum's totals. Those delegates were filed as supporters of the candidates and elected directly on the March 20 primary ballot.]

What this means is that the delegate candidates in Colorado are who we need to look at and not the straw poll results from February 7. By that measure, it looks as if Mitt Romney will emerge victorious in the Colorado delegate count. The former Massachusetts governor has more at-large delegate candidates pledged to him than any other candidate and more pledged congressional district delegates in five of the seven Colorado congressional districts.

The leader in the other two congressional districts, you might be surprised to find out, is Ron Paul and not Rick Santorum. [Perhaps that autopsy should live on.]

Now, before we get into possible Santorum-Paul alliances to prevent Mitt Romney from overperforming his straw poll numbers in another non-binding caucus state, there is another wildcard to discuss: unpledged delegates. The Colorado Republican Party may have changed the rules regarding the pledging/binding of delegates compared to the 2008 cycle, but that never meant that delegates had to run as pledged to a particular candidate. They don't. In fact, if "Unpledged" was a candidate, he or she would be the frontrunner to emerge with the most delegates from Colorado. With the exception of the first congressional district, there are more unpledged delegates than pledged delegates in the six other congressional districts and statewide (at-large). The race to determine/sway the preferences of those delegates will play an outsized role in the selection of delegates in the congressional district and state conventions later this week.

  1. As Jon Bernstein pointed out yesterday, though this race is effectively over, the fact that none of the remaining three candidates other than Romney has dropped out -- and by all accounts have no plans to in the near term -- provides us with a nice glimpse into the mechanics of Republican caucus/convention systems in a somewhat competitive environment. It is a helpful exercise to observe what happens -- particularly in light of the projections made based on the February 7 straw poll. 
  2. To get back to those latent Santorum-Paul delegate alliances, it is an open question as to whether such coalitions are to the candidates' benefit. On the one hand both could strategically align with each other to prevent Romney from winning the most delegates on either the congressional district level or at the state convention. But on the other hand, the margins are not that great between each candidate individually and Mitt Romney -- statewide or in any of the seven congressional districts -- that the persuasion of some of the unpledged delegates could not be overcome. In fact, FHQ would hypothesize that, at least initially, a Darwinian struggle for the votes of those unpledged delegates would be the optimal strategy for each of the campaigns. But this is a more dynamic process than "form a coalition" or "go-it-alone" for Paul and Santorum (or Romney for that matter). The struggle may be where this starts, but again, there is a difference between delegate selection and delegate binding. And there are no rules to guide this process in Colorado. Nothing has to be proportional to the straw poll vote or the vote at that district or state convention. Nor does the allocation have to be winner-take-all. It could be either, but neither is required by rule. Much, then, will depend on the method of voting. Is it an open Darwinian struggle -- of sorts -- like the Iowa Democratic caucuses or is/are a secret ballot vote(s) taken to determine overall preference and delegates chosen accordingly? We don't know. 
  3. Of course, with more than one congressional district, Colorado will be different from North Dakota. The Colorado GOP may put forth a slate of at-large delegates at the state convention -- that doesn't appear to be the case -- but that is a much more difficult enterprise from above and outside of the congressional district conventions. 
  4. That has not stopped at least some from crying shenanigans. Romney's delegates will be the first listed on the ballot (...based on national delegate count order).
  5. This means a lot less with Santorum suspending his campaign. Consider the experiment in semi-competitive Republican caucus states over.
1 FHQ will have more on the Pennsylvania Republican delegate selection system some other time. Suffice it to say, it will not be the easiest contest in which to gauge some measure of victory for a candidate or candidates. ...as if Rick Santorum needed any more hills to climb in the quest to keep Mitt Romney from 1144.

2 Yes, from a momentum standpoint, binding or not, the Colorado win along with Minnesota and Missouri wins helped make Rick Santorum relevant again for the contests -- particularly Michigan -- later in February. That didn't stop the Romney campaign from retorting that Santorum got no delegates out of his February 7 victories.

3 I suppose it helps that the AP (via the New York Times) adds the very fine print that Colorado is non-binding and the delegate allocation for the state is just a projection. It would be perhaps less misleading if they didn't project the delegates at all. See North Dakota.

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