Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Explained: The confusion over Tuesday's delegates

Image lovingly borrowed from AP, via Salon.

Although Rick Santorum won three out of three ballots last night in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, you'll see this morning that the delegate counts remain the same, in spite of Colorado being worth 36 delegates, Minnesota being worth 40 and Missouri offering 52. 

Let's deal with Missouri first. The whole primary on Tuesday evening was unofficial, and means very little other than Santorum can brag that he won it. Missouri's official delegates will be awarded at a caucus beginning on 17 March. It's probably also worth pointing out that Santorum may have benefited from low turnout, as people will reluctantly go out and vote in an election which doesn't have a binding or definitive outcome. We'll actually only know the final delegate count for Missouri on 2 June. 

Colorado's caucus results are also non-binding, but are at least an official count. The actual delegates will be distributed at district conventions beginning from 13 March, and will be confirmed at a state convention on 14 March. 

In Minnesota, much the same applies. Delegates will be decided upon as district conventions and confirmed at a state convention on 5 May. 

So why do states do this? 
Well, if you remember Florida lost half of its delegates to award when it moved its primary forward to 31 January, breaking Republican National Convention rules which barred it from holding a primary before 6 March. It's not the only state to attempt this. What states really crave, however, is attention, and the ability to dictate the electoral race. On Super Tuesday on 6 March, when more than ten states go to pick their preferred Republican presidential candidate, it is unlikely that any singular result will have an impact on the race in the way that Iowa or New Hampshire do right at the beginning of the calendar. 

Because Colorado (which ran on Super Tuesday as recently as 2008) and Minnesota award their delegates at conventions later in the year, they did not face penalties for moving the beginning of their decision-making process to before 6 March. Yet they have managed to thrust Rick Santorum forward, hopefully projecting their state's choice into the national spotlight. Had Super Tuesday resulted in these three wins for Santorum, but eight for Mitt Romney, it would have lessened their impact considerably. 

If last night was anything to go by, these strategies are largely successful. And have thrown a spoke in the wheels of the Romney machine, which they most likely would not have done otherwise. 

So now you know. 

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