Monday, April 30, 2012

Question Time: What Happens to Santorum's Delegates?

Via the comments:
Will you start classifying Santorum's delegates as uncommitted?
The classification of Santorum's delegates in FHQ's Race to 1144 posts is a bit of a tricky issue. The easiest answer is to say that we will do exactly what we did with the Huntsman delegates in New Hampshire. First of all, know that the decision on the Huntsman delegates was, well, ad hoc. Though the process had yet to play out on the state level, the RNC almost immediately shifted those delegates to the "uncommitted" column in its delegate count. I suspect if the RNC had not already shifted to general election mode and was still regularly updating its in-house delegate count, the Communications folks there would similarly shift some or all of the Santorum delegates into the "uncommitted" category as well.

Yet there is a difference between a candidate with two delegates and another with more than 200 delegates. FHQ is much more inclined -- perhaps, contradictorily so -- to take the slow approach with the Santorum delegates as opposed to the Huntsman delegates. Think of primary season as a spool of thread. It is much easier to wrap an unraveled inch of thread back around the spool in an orderly way than it is to attempt re-spin 20% of the total thread unraveled to this point.

One other issue worth raising is that one of those two New Hampshire delegates for Huntsman later came out in support of Mitt Romney.1 None of Santorum's delegates have yet to do anything like this.

Moving forward, then, the most appropriate way to deal with this issue to pull those delegates back from Santorum's total when and if state party rules or state law forces a change in their categorization. For instance, Michigan state law, not state party rules as has been reported, releases a candidate's delegates upon
...the withdrawal of that presidential candidate from contention for that party's nomination or by written release of that presidential candidate to the chairperson of the national convention, whichever is earliest. -- Act 116-1954-XXV, Section 168.619
But if you look closely at that AP account of Santorum's Michigan delegates, you will note that the actual delegates have not been selected yet. The Santorum campaign withdrew a challenge in order to safeguard the proportional selection of Santorum supporters to delegate slots by the party. [Paul campaign supporters may have something to say about that at upcoming county conventions, congressional district caucuses and the state convention.] But it doesn't really work that way. There are no safeguards.

What that means, though, is that the Santorum campaign has or hopes he has 14 theoretical delegates "bound" to him in Michigan. Once those delegates are selected, however, they will not be bound to him and chances are good that the chosen delegates will not necessarily prefer him as a candidate; opting instead for Romney or Paul.

Of course, this is just one state. The rules regarding the commitments/binding of delegates differs from state to state and the changes in the delegate count need to reflect that reality. In most instances, delegates have not been selected, but rather slots set aside for one candidate or another (via rules- or law-based binding mechanisms), and in most cases, those commitments are in place until the candidate releases them.2 Those delegates will remain in Santorum's column until he releases those delegates or the actual delegates chosen come forward with publicly stated preferences indicating support for another candidate. That is similar to the treatment of the Huntsman delegates.

NOTE: The case is fairly solid in terms of moving the 14 Santorum delegates in Michigan to uncommitted in the FHQ count. That change will be made in the next update after the Indiana, North Carolina and West Virginia primaries on May 8.

1 Truth be told, one of those two New Hampshire delegates is still a Huntsman delegate. It just did not make sense, however, to continue setting aside a column in the spreadsheet or bar in the bar chart for just two delegates. That one contest delegate in the unbound/unpledged section is still a Huntsman delegate. [Note to self: Add a footnote to that effect in the next update.]

2 The withdrawal from contention clause in the Michigan law is a necessary but not sufficient condition in most other states. It is not either/or in other words. Rather, a withdrawal and release is necessary to unbind delegates.

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