For “The Donald,” it’s about the delegates


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Trump’s rally in Dallas yesterday, via Facebook

The second Republican primary contest debate is scheduled for tomorrow night at 7pm CST on CNN. National polls show Donald Trump and Ben Carson dominating the Republican field.  Pundits are reminding voters of facts like, “Rick Perry was at the top of the field this time in 2012.” They’re warning of the barrage of attack ads that will soon be coming to influence primary voters. (The powerful Club for Growth launched a $1 million anti-Trump ad today.)  Yet this race appears to be like no other with a man in the mix who commands free media time wherever he goes.  “The Donald” brings the ratings and the media follows.  But can the hype translate into the 1,144 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination next July?

With Trump at 30% on average in national polls and Dr. Ben Carson in second place with 17.8%, it’s clear that Republican primary voters are rejecting the status-quo and looking for somebody outside of politics.  The “Washington outsider” message was the same one that Barack Obama ran on in 2008, although he was a sitting U.S. Senator at the time.  The conventional Republican candidates with “Governor” on their resumes are floundering.  Jeb Bush has an average of 7.8% in the polls, and he’s leading the pack.  Scott Walker is at 3.8%, John Kasich 3.5%.  Even if you combine these “establishment” candidates and others like Marco Rubio and Chris Christie, they don’t match Trump’s current 30% in popularity.  For comparison, the 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney was never below 16% in the polls, although the field was much smaller.

But popularity doesn’t always translate into delegates, and the Iowa primary is still 4.5 months away.  The much-detested “establishment” refers to the usual paid political consultants and kingmakers who influence the process and there’s an “establishment” in every state.  They are tied into Washington D.C. money, often times as lobbyists, and are the men and women who bring home the big money that funds state-level campaigns.  Their influence over the grassroots is demonstrated when they organize state-level elected Republicans, who are often looking to move up the food chain.  When your local state representative is supporting John Kasich for President, their voters may be more likely to, so the logic goes.  All around the country, campaigns are doing the traditional work of organizing state legislators, county commissioners, and influential activists in hopes that their networks can turn out voters on primary day or caucus night.  Trump is doing little of this, but according to a Wall Street Journal article out this week, he is organizing heavily in Iowa.  He also has a strong organization in New Hampshire per Business Insider.  But, what he doesn’t have is a long line of locally elected politicians standing behind him, which means he’s relying on the masses of Republican party base voters to show up and on his momentum continuing through the fall.

Each state party has their own rules for how delegates are allocated, but the Republican National Committee dictates the rules as well. For example, Minnesota’s delegates are now bound by the results of the caucus-night’s Presidential straw poll and are allocated proportionately to the number of votes for each candidate. So, if Donald Trump won 30% of the votes cast on March 1st caucus night , then 30% of Minnesota’s 38 delegates would be bound to vote for Donald Trump a the July 18-21st GOP Convention in Cleveland.  The RNC made this change after Ron Paul delegates organized and won a significant number of national delegates spots in 2012.

In Colorado, the state’s Republican party executive committee recently voted to cancel their traditional caucus night presidential preference poll because the RNC had changed its rule to require delegates to support the candidate who wins the poll.  This leaves the state with unbound delegates going into the convention, which could make a difference if there’s a tight race and a floor fight.

Some states have open primaries which allows anybody to vote in the election, while others are closed to only allow registered Republican voters.   Others are semi-closed, which typically means one must ask for either a Republican or Democrat ballot, and can’t split their vote.  A blanket primary means that a voter can split their ticket, and vote for a Republican presidential candidate, but a Democrat Senate candidate in the primary.  California has a lot of delegates and a late, blanket-primary.

Primary states typically favor candidates with more money and a large media/advertising presence.  Caucus states favor campaigns with strong organization that are in touch with the conservative base of the party. Voting in a primary takes little time and effort, but candidates still need a get-out-the-vote effort to remind voters to be at the polls on the specific primary date.  Caucus night requires that attendees sit through other party business in order to vote in a presidential preference poll, and requires more time and effort. Caucus attendees often times can only participate if they state that they voted for the Republican candidate in the last general election.

By March 15th, over half of the total 2,470 delegates will be allocated.  A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to win the nomination.  In the open contests of 2000, 2008, and 2012, the nominee was apparent by March when mathematics dictated who could reach the magic number.

John McCain withdrew on March 9, 2000 with only 21.3% of delegates needed to win the nomination, which George W. Bush secured.  In the 2008 race, Romney withdrew on February 7th with 12.5% of delegates needed and Mike Huckabee pulled out on March 4th with 12.8% of delegates needed.  In 2012, Rick Santorum put his campaign on hold in early April when Romney had already secured 62% of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination to Santorum’s 20.5%

Republicans haven’t gone to a brokered convention floor since 1976 when Reagan refused to drop out and move his delegates to sitting President Gerald Ford .  Ford won with 1,187 delegates (there were 1,130 needed,) to Reagan’s 1,070.  But party rules have grown more stringent since that time, binding individual delegates to their state primary or caucus night poll results.

Alpha News combined dates from online sources including, www.uspresidentialelectionnews.com, delegate numbers from www.thegreenpapers.com, and election information from www.ballotpedia.org in order to take a closer look at the process.

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