Who’s Really Ahead: Current GOP Delegate Tally, Guesses or Fact?

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Media focus on the Republican presidential primary process is on a perpetual 24/7 news cycle, relentless and rife with circus sideshows (Hello, Mr. Trump). Yet, the constant microscope from the press hasn’t prevented mainstream media outlets from mangling the delegate count. Presently, the number of delegates pledged to any candidate is far less than media outlets are reporting and mathematically point to only one outcome so far: a brokered Republican National Convention.

Not So Fast Gov. Romney

Let’s make this clear: Gov. Romney may be leading when it comes to the polls and his pocketbook, but premature tallies of his delegates won up to today are greatly exaggerated.

Getting nominated for President is all about delegates – 1144 is the number the potential nominees are fighting for. While 8 states have held primaries and caucuses, of these 8 contests, only 4 have chosen actual convention delegates: New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida (where the allocation system is still in dispute), and Nevada.

Just those four. New Hampshire. South Carolina. Florida. Nevada.

Assuming generously that Gov. Romney is awarded all of Florida’s delegates, IVN’s delegate count is currently as follows: Gov. Romney with 75 delegates consisting of 50 from Florida, 14 from Nevada, 9 from New Hampshire (including Huntsmen’s 2 delegates) and 2 from South Carolina.  Newt Gingrich has 29 delegates consisting of 23 from South Carolina and 6 from Nevada.  Dr. Paul has 8 delegates consisting of 3 from New Hampshire and 5 from Nevada. And, Sen. Santorum has 3 delegates – all from Nevada.

In the press, the breakdown is fluctuating wildly. Some, like CNN, have Gov. Romney pulling in 115 delegates currently. Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal are claiming Sen. Santorum has 72.

Take halt before assuming those counts are accurate. Consider the fact that news networks don’t seem to understand, or at least articulate to their viewers, what exactly happens during a caucus. Multiple states with contests in February hold them, where, as Politico points out, “delegates [are] mainly awarded on a proportional instead of winner-take-all basis, underdogs with less money but good organizations have a chance to get back in the game.”

Did someone say Ron Paul?

Notorious for his dedicated and meticulous attention to the actual dynamics of running a primary campaign, his staff keeps stressing one thing: winning delegates.

Dr. Paul’s strategy is to continue to siphon off sizable amounts of delegates and it’s due to a deep understanding of the system. How many know that in Iowa, NO delegates were actually allocated at the caucuses? Rather, there was a caucus preference, and after that, a second caucus was held to start the delegate allocation process.  Later on, there will be county conventions and then Iowa will host their own State Convention. Dr. Paul supporters in Iowa were well aware that showing up “to vote” wasn’t enough. They had to stay through the end and complete the caucus process. It is likely that given the strong organizational skills, Dr. Paul will get most of Iowa’s delegates.  The same principled approached was also replicated in Minnesota and Colorado earlier this week.

To be fair, caucuses aren’t very sexy. For the most part they are slow, logical and civil, so the less time spent wasting value television slots on them, the better. Right?

But the media oversimplification of the caucus process hasn’t fooled everyone. In response to a recent David Weigel article on Slate, Ron Paul Secretly Won the Caucuses, one commenter captured the sentiment on the ground where Republican party hopefuls recently came through:

In Colorado, we haven’t even elected delegates to the National Convention yet. We held our caucus this past Tuesday. It’s the same way in Iowa and Nevada. Even when we do elect them, they can remain “unpledged”. We won’t really know how many delegates any candidate received from most caucus states until June or later. I know for a fact that the presidential straw poll we held on Tuesday has nothing to do with the delegate allotment nor does it correlate with the delegate count.

In fact, all of the contests held earlier this week were mathematically insignificant despite being touted in the press as stunning results for Sen. Santorum and a signal for Speaker Gingrich to quit. In reality, 95 delegates from caucuses in Iowa, Colorado and Minnesota remain unpledged.

The Case of Florida

And then there’s Florida, which violated GOP rules not once, but twice by both moving up the date of their primary and modifying how they would assign delegates. The Republican National Committee (RNC), under the leadership of Michael Steele as chair, adopted a series of rules changes that penalized states that “went early” and also mandated proportional representation rules that removed the possibility that all delegates went to the statewide winner – at least early in the process.

Last week, former Speaker Gingrich claimed that Florida’s statewide winner-take-all rules violated RNC rules and signaled a convention challenge. It is important to note that RNC rules would supersede any state party rules or state statutes with respect to Republican Party delegate allocation.  Assuming the New Hampshire proportionate representation model is followed in Florida with a 15% threshold, Gov. Romney would get 29 delegates and Speaker Gingrich 21 delegates. If a 10% threshold is used, Gov. Romney would get 26 delegates, Speaker Gingrich 17, and Sen. Santorum 7.

These changed nominating dynamics also explain Speaker Gingrich’s strategy. His campaign is anything but dead, no matter how catchy a headline that makes. He didn’t compete in any of the contests this past Tuesday because he too knew they were meaningless in terms of immediate delegate allocation. Instead, Speaker Gingrich is looking to a southern strategy whereby he can rack up big delegate totals.

What’s Next?

Another example of the changed dynamic under new rules will be on display in the next primary battle in Michigan on February 28th, where Sen. Santorum wants to make another stand. Michigan is an “open primary” state where there’s no party affiliation and persons become party members for a day. It appears that there will be 30 delegates allocated, with 14 being winner-take-all by Congressional District, and remaining 16 allocated proportionately to the statewide winner, with a 15% threshold.

A poll out of Michigan today taken prior to Tuesday’s contests showed Gov. Romney at 31%, Speaker Gingrich at 16%, and Sen. Santorum and Dr. Paul each at 15%. There is a good chance Speaker Gingrich will let Sen. Santorum go head-to-head with Gov. Romney in Michigan, letting the former Senator take the brute of Super PAC ad attacks.  Dr. Paul, who tends to perform better on election day than the polling suggests, could do very well delegate-wise in Michigan, relatively quietly as he has continued to do throughout the race. Unlike past years Sen. Santorum and Dr. Paul will not be shut out in Michigan completely and the actual delegates that Gov. Romney will win is far less than otherwise might have been the case under the old rules.

The RNC rules changes have had the effect of turning half of the Republican contests to date into meaningless beauty contests. As such, barring a huge game changer the Republican contest will likely become somewhat like the epic Ford vs. Reagan contest of 1976 which went all the way to the Convention. Despite media-appointed “frontrunner” status or declarations that any current candidate’s campaign is dead, it’s still a wide open race.