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How an open convention could reinvigorate Republicans.
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Other permutations and confusions are possible as well, but the practical outcome remains the same: What matters is not the original percentage of voters; what matters is which camp or coalition can first find a way to a bare majority.
And there is nothing unfair about this. It’s very similar to a state primary system for, say, governor, in which a runoff primary is required if nobody in a multi-candidate race earns 50 percent in the first primary. Backers of the third-place candidate easily can, and often do, swing behind the second place candidate in the runoff, putting him over the top and denying the nomination from the first-primary plurality winner. The same principle applies here.
In real life, take Washington State as an example. Based on raw voter preferences, the Real Clear Politics estimate is that Romney will take 25 delegates, Paul 8, and Santorum 7. Santorum’s team has claimed in public that this count will prove to be wildly off. Well, if the local supporters of Paul, Santorum, and Gingrich tend to work together to block Romney, the Santorum claim could easily prove accurate, with Paul and Santorum each gaining another four or so delegates, all at Romney’s expense.
In a conference call a couple of weeks ago, Santorum spokesmen said they expected to do better than media estimates not just in Washington, but in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado, and perhaps Alaska as well. Because the national dynamic so far has provided practical incentives for the other three candidates to make common cause against Romney — and because Santorum did well enough in those states to be in the driver’s seat within those coalitions — at least some of his campaign’s assertions have the ring of truth. Granted, campaigns looking for silver linings may convince themselves they are doing better than they actually are. But there is every reason to believe that even if the Santorum team is too optimistic, the media counts probably do overstate Romney’s actual delegate lead to a certain extent — specifically because of the dynamic described above.
The Santorum team also plans to challenge the winner-take-all allocations of Florida’s 50-member delegation and Arizona’s 40. There is no doubt, at all, that national party rules dictate proportional allocation for both states rather than a clean sweep for Romney. That doesn’t mean a challenge to those delegations will actually succeed, but there is good reason to think it has a decent chance. Six-term Virginia National Committeeman Morton Blackwell, a GOP rules guru for 40 years, explained in an essay for Red State exactly why such a challenge will have at least a decent shot, and how it would work. “Any likely remedy,” Blackwell wrote, “would reduce Gov. Romney’s delegate vote total and increase the delegate votes for other candidates. In a closely divided convention, that could decide who wins the presidential nomination.”
Some back-of-envelope calculations of my own show that Romney could “lose” a combined 49 delegates from current allocations in those two states, while Santorum could pick up about 28 of those (with Paul and Gingrich each gaining some as well). That would be a significant shift.
Before the Louisiana primary, I “gamed out” the results for the remainder of the presidential nomination contests, with close attention to the precise delegate-allocation rules in each individual state. I did so with two priorities in mind: First, every assumption I made about future results had to be well within reason; second, within that realm of indisputable reasonableness, I resolved most predictive doubts slightly (but only slightly) in Santorum’s favor, as if he were to continue slightly outperforming polling and anecdotal indicators, just as he has in almost every state so far.
For instance, most pre-Louisiana polls indicated Santorum might get seven or eight delegates from its primary to Romney’s six (or maybe as few as five). When I made my assumptions ahead of time, I gave Santorum 9 to Romney’s 5. As it was, I slightly underestimated Santorum’s final margin; Real Clear Politics says he won 10 delegates, Romney five.
When assessing the remainder of the race, I tried to be just as careful. Meanwhile, I assumed that the caucus states mentioned above would indeed, in the end, give Santorum more delegates, and Romney fewer, than Real Clear Politics estimates — but nowhere near to the degree that Santorum’s own camp seems to expect. In short, again, I tried to stay well within reason, but to give a realistically based shading, just slightly, in Santorum’s favor — based not on my wishes, but on Santorum’s already-established habit of outperforming polls.
I did nothing to “massage” the numbers, but let them pile up on their own without me trying to figure how closely they would move Romney to the 1,144 majority he needs for a first-ballot victory.
What I found was that Romney fell just short. Close, but not quite there.
To avoid the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness,” which is what happens when somebody reaches too precise a conclusion despite basing it on a series of contingencies, I will not lay out, state by state, how many delegates I “awarded” to each candidate, nor will I say precisely how close Romney came. The point is not that I have a perfect crystal ball; the point is that, based on long experience and success in this political-prediction business, I think it likely that my errors to Romney’s detriment, state by state, will approximately balance out my errors in his favor — as in Louisiana — meaning that, if my assumptions are right, he could well fall just short.
Now this isn’t to say a first-ballot failure precludes Romney from winning on the second ballot. It just means that the arithmetic gives credence to the idea that he can indeed be blocked.
For an example of how I gamed it out, looking forward after tomorrow’s primaries in Wisconsin and Maryland, I assumed Santorum would win at least pluralities in the following states (through May), all of which are quite reasonable assumptions: Pennsylvania, Delaware (barely), North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas, Texas, and Nebraska.
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