While media attention stays fixed on the air war, the GOP is paying more attention to this other front, where it's still a three-man race. by George J. Dance
Saturday, March 31, 2012
The ongoing war for the Republican presidential nomination is being waged in two distinct theaters. The first can be called the air war, as it dominates the airwaves and therefore gets the bulk of public attention. That war is composed of the discrete, ongoing battles to win states -- meaning, to win state primary and caucus preference votes -- in order to be seen as a popular choice by the media and public. The second, which can be called the ground war as it is being fought mainly below the media radar, at humble county and district GOP assemblies, consists of battles to win delegates: delegates to the party's state and Congressional District (CD) conventions, and (ultimately) Delegates to the National Convention in Tampa Bay this August.
The air war receives the bulk of attention because, in many states, national Delegates are bound (by state law or party rules) to vote for the winner of the preference vote for at least one ballot. If one candidate clinches the nomination by getting a bound majority (1,144 or more) of the Delegates, as is normally the case, the results of the air war then determine the winner. However, if that is not the case, a candidate can win on the first ballot only by appealing to the unbound Delegates (who are free to vote their own preferences). If no one wins that first vote, more and more Delegates will be unbound on subsequent ballots. In such a scenario, the ground war results become all-important.
While the Republican air war has been volatile this year, it finally appears to be winding down to a foregone conclusion. As Michael Shear of the New York Times recently blogged, recent developments in that war "suggest a two-man race" between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. "In the case of Mr. Paul and Mr. Gingrich, the two other candidates still in the GOP race, the media -- and the public -- seem to have moved on."(1)
However, there are also "those who argue that the Republican contest is already a one-man race," claimed Shear, "with Mr. Santorum rapidly approaching the kind of irrelevance of his other two rivals."(1) Those who argue that cite the wide disparity in Delegates projected by those following the air war results. Associated Press (AP), for instance, gives Romney 568 Delegates, almost half what he needs to clinch the nomination, and more than double Santorum's 273. (Gingrich and Paul are far behind, says AP, with 135 and 50 Delegates respectively.) This gap has led to talk of Santorum's increasingly steep climb to the nomination, and to calls for the former Senator (as well as for both Paul and Gingrich) to drop out of the race.(2)
In response, Santorum's organization is understandably trying to shift media attention to the ground war. In a March 20 conference call with the press, Santorum delegate strategist John Yob told the press that in Iowa, Missouri, and Washington -- states whose Delegates are unbound -- Romney's camp has been "underperforming" and his support "collapsing." In such states, said Yob, "the campaign was measuring 'a significant jump for Santorum and a significant drop for Mitt Romney' as counties and other districts pick delegates bound for state conventions."(3)
Paul's organization also focusses, and has since the beginning, on the ground war, and (as I wrote last month) has also claimed to be winning it in some states.(4) Since my report last month, I have been collecting new information on that war and reporting it in my blog, GDs Political Animal.(5) While such information is still sparse, it is surfacing with more frequency in the main stream media, allowing one to begin to form a picture of how the ground war is progressing in various states.
In Iowa, according to state Republican insiders, "Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are best positioned to win the most delegates ... making Mitt Romney the odd man out." AP gives Romney 12 of Iowa's Delegates, Santorum 13, and Paul zero. However, says Steve Scheffler, an Iowa member of the Republican National Commitee, "That's just not correct information at all." He adds that "they don't know what they're talking about." Craig Robinson, a former state party official who runs the Iowa Republican blog, says, "I think that Santorum will get the delegates he should get but I think Ron Paul will get way more delegates than he should get." Robinson "worries that Paul could potentially give Iowa a black eye by winning the most delegates."(6)
Meanwhile, in Colorado (where Santorum won the caucus preference vote), "Romney and Paul are sweeping up the bulk of committed delegates to the state and congressional district conventions, leaving Santorum and Gingrich far behind," the Colorado Statesman reports. In the Denver county convention, for instance, Romney won 33 delegates to the April 14 state convention, Paul 23, Santorum 6, and Gingrich 4. In the vote for delegates to the 1st CD convention, the results were were 28, 26, 7, and 4, in the same order.(3)
Uncommitted delegates, however, are running ahead of all the candidates, adds the Statesman. The Denver meeting elected 58 uncommitted delegates to the state convention (more than the number of Romney and Paul delegates combined), and 44 to the 1st CD. In other county conventions, such as Alamosa County, all the elected delegates were uncommitted. Some of those are no doubt Paul supporters: Paul's Colorado campaign "has explicitly instructed supporters to stay uncommitted until the last minute." How many of those there are will not be known until April.(3)
In Nevada (where Romney won the caucus preference vote), Paul supporters took control of at least one county assembly (in Clark County), winning a majority of its executive and at least half of its state convention delegates.(7)
In Washington (where Romney won the primary), Paul supporters dominated two caucus meetings in Seattle -- the 36th and 46th legislative districts -- winning every single delegate. "They just out-organized us," said a Romney supporter who attended the 46th District meet. "I think the Paul people are really trying to take over the party, and they have the right to."(8)
The Seattle Times (which reported those coups) noted that Paul was doing less well in rural parts of the state, winning just a few delegates in rural King County.(8) However, the Paul forces in the state have picked up a new, key ally: Rick Santorum. In a recent conference call, the ex-senator instructed his supporters to cooperate with the Paul forces. "And the Senator didn't mince words," e-mailed Santorum's state volunteer coordinator Graden Neal. "In order for us to win the nomination in Tampa in August, we must deny Romney delegates to that convention. If ... Romney receives 1,144 delegates before the national convention, it is all over for our campaign. That is the reason why the Senator himself directed us to coalition with the Ron Paul delegates to deny Romney any state delegates."(9)
In Missouri (where Santorum won the non-binding primary), it was the mainly the Romney and Paul camps teaming up. In Greene County, for example, the caucus "approved a slate of 111 delegates heavy on Paul supporters to represent the county at the 7th Congressional District convention on April 21 and the state party convention on June 2 ... after Paul's camp struck an agreement with supporters of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.... Similar agreements were struck elsewhere in Missouri, including Boone and Taney counties."(10)
The next week, in Jackson County, the Paul and Romney delegates also made a deal, giving Paul 63 delegates to the 5th Congressional District (vs. 81 for Romney), plus "all 35 available delegate spots" to the 6th CD convention. Paul delegates also won 149 spots for the state convention, vs. 39 for Romney and none for Santorum. ("We were railroaded," fumed one Santorum supporter, "and it's not fair.")(11)
There were exceptions. In Christian County, the Santorum forces defeated a Paul-Romney coalition.(10) In Clay County, it was the Santorum and Romney camps who struck a deal, leaving Paul with no delegates. (There were no cries of unfairness from Santorum supporters then).(11) In the St. Louis city caucus, Paul's supporters formed a majority of the roughly 300 attending and "won all 36 delegates" for themselves.(12)
It is still too early to make predictions based on these results; in none of these states have any national Delegates been selected yet. However, it is possible to form a picture of what is happening in the ground war, which differs from the air war in two important respects: First, results are far closer than the preference votes would indicate. Second, it is very much a three-man race; Paul's highly committed base of supporters, and his campaign's focus on the ground war from the very beginning, make him a player who should not be counted out yet.
With several big states (New York, Texas, and California) still to hold primaries, it is still possible for Romney to clinch the nomination by winning the air war. However, the possibility of a brokered convention (where no candidate goes in with a majority) looms large.(13) As the nomination fight drags on, and that possibility increases, expect more attention to be paid to the ground war.
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