David Rodeback's Blog
Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Presidential Primaries and Caucuses: Iowa, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Running Totals
The BMA typically tell us which candidates get the most votes, without worrying much about who is accumulating the most delegates to the two parties' national conventions. Here we look at the numbers that matter: the delegate counts -- but even those are soft.
Simple It Ain't
There's a certain temptation to think that presidential primaries are simple concepts, but they're not. Some are not even primaries, but caucuses (public meetings, often without secret ballots, and with no absentee voting). Moreover, the rules differ between parties and from state to state, the delegate counts are not comparable across party lines, and many of the supposedly committed delegates are "soft," meaning they are not technically required to vote the way their state or congressional district voted.
Some congressional districts and states are "winner take all," and some divide their delegates proportionally among the top finishers. For example, in a winner-take-all situation, whichever candidate wins a given congressional district would get all of its delegates, and whichever candidate wins the statewide vote would get all the statewide delegates.
A few states have one party's event on one day, and the other party's on another day. Each state party has its own rules about when an unsuccessful candidate can release his delegates, too. More significantly, some primaries are "open," meaning you don't have to be a party member to vote, and some are "closed," meaning, of course, that you can only vote in your own party's primary. Some open primaries allow only registered party members and registered independents to vote for a party's candidates; some allow anyone. This -- and the fact that they are his natural constituency -- is why John McCain has been asking Democrats and independents to "cross over" and vote for him in Republican primaries.
It gets worse. Some state parties are in trouble with their national parties for holding their primaries too early (before February 5). For example, Wyoming Republicans are being punished by having the number of delegates that will be seated at the national convention cut in half, from 28 to 14, and no Michigan Democratic delegates are to be seated at all. Whether these penalties will suvive inevitable court challenges insisting that voters are disenfranchised by the penalties remains to be seen.
How is a political junkie to keep track of it all? Well, the New York Times wants to help, and CNN wants to help, and so do a bunch of other places. But the single most useful Web site for me so far is TheGreenPapers.com. It's not a beautiful site, but it delivers the goods. I'm relying heavily on it in this post.
Here's a relatively quick look at where we are so far. On the Republican side, note that Mitt Romney had the most delegates of any Republican candidate even before Michigan, despite finishing second in Iowa and New Hampshire.
At the national convention, a delegate needs a majority of delegates (half plus one) to win the nomination. If no candidate has a majority on the first ballot, there is a second -- and a third, as necessary, and a fourth . . . Along the way, candidates may release their delegates and endorse another candidate (the endorsement is not binding), and delegates themselves may change their votes from ballot to ballot.
Before we dive into the numbers, I have a favor to ask: Please alert me if you see any errors.
Thursday, January 3: Iowa Caucuses
Iowa delegates actually aren't even pledged yet; that awaits some conventions. But here's how things went in the caucuses. Note that Iowa caucuses are closed to non-party members.
Saturday, January 5: Wyoming Republican Caucus
Wyoming Democrats caucus March 8. As noted above, Wyoming's Republican delegate count would ordinarily be 28, but they're being punished for caucusing too early, so the total is 14. Like Iowa delegates, Wyoming's are technically "unpledged" until state and local conventions, which come later. This is a closed caucus.
Tuesday, January 7: New Hampshire Primaries
These are open primaries. New Hampshire Republicans are subject to the 50% penalty imposed by the national party.
Tuesday, January 15
Michigan primaries are open, winner-take-all affairs (by congressional district and statewide).
The national party is punishing the Michigan Democratic Party for the early primary by refusing to seat any of its delegates, so none are awarded for Michigan.
Coming Up Next
Saturday, January 19: Nevada (caucuses, both parties); South Carolina (primary, Republicans only)
Jenny Rader comments (1/16/08):
I've been reading your blog for a couple of years now and figured it was about time to say "Hi."
Why do the Republicans and Democrats feel the need to punish Wyoming and Michigan for holding their primaries "too early?" Yes, I could research the answer myself, but maybe there isn't a logical answer (which I feel is a distinct possibility in this case), and you might already know the answer (which would allow me more time to sit around eating bon-bons).
David Rodeback replies (1/16/08):
Thanks for reading! I'm especially flattered by your sense that, if there's a logical answer, I might actually know it. Here's what I understand of the situation: The rules that apply are not federal laws, but the national Republican and Democratic Parties' own rules.
The latest version of the Republican Party rules, adopted in 2004, specifies a six-month window for primaries. The first day of that window in 2008 is February 5. Several states are breaking the rules, trying to expand their influence by having earlier primaries, and the Republican National Committee is imposing the penalty specified in the rules: forfeiture of half the offending states' delegates. This applies in New Hampshire, Wyoming, Michigan, Florida, and South Carolina, but not to Iowa, where the caucus is a sort of non-binding beauty contest. Here's a pretty good Wall Street Journal article from October about the Republican side of this.
Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee's version of the same punishment is stripping Michigan and Florida of all their delegates. The Democratic Party rule prohibits states other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina from holding primaries or caucuses prior to February 5. Note that the Wyoming Democratic caucus is scheduled later, to comply with the rules, while Wyoming Republicans have already caucused -- and punished. According to this MSNBC story, all major Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in Michigan or Florida, and John Edwards and Barack Obama (among others, not including Hillary Clinton) had their names removed from the ballots in those states "to satisfy Iowa and New Hampshire," states which want to protect their traditional leading role in the primaries.
Rules are rules, I guess, and if they let some states break these rules, what rules would states try to break next in their lobster-tank-like quests for the national spotlight?
Copyright 2008 by David Rodeback.