Different counts leave number of Romney delegates in question
TAMPA - It's almost Super Tuesday. Do you know where your delegates are? In fact, nobody really does. After 11 state primaries and caucuses in the Republican presidential primary, the concrete results – numbers of delegates to the Tampa RNC convention won by each candidate – are highly uncertain. There's not much question Mitt Romney has a big lead, but no one knows exactly how big, and it may turn out not to be as big as is being reported.Counting delegates is more an art than a science for several reasons — the varying ways they're allocated by caucus and primary states; different rules about whether the delegates are "bound" to a candidate; and such questions as what happens to delegates won by a candidate who drops out. That's why news agencies and even the Republican Party all have slightly different delegate counts. But beyond that, 79 delegates Romney won in two states, Florida and Michigan, may be subject to challenge. That could put a serious dent in his total of 180 or so delegates, a total roughly double that of second-place Rick Santorum. The Republican parties in both states announced they'll award all their delegates to Romney as the winner, a "winner-take-all" delegate plan. But rules of the national Republican Party say any primary before April 1 must use proportional allocation, with second- or third-place finishers entitled to some delegates. Romney would still get a majority, but Newt Gingrich would be entitled to some of Florida's 50, and Santorum, and possibly also Gingrich, to a share of Arizona's 29. A complaint has already been filed over the Florida delegate allocation, and the Gingrich campaign is circulating a protest letter. The issue isn't likely to be decided until near the time of the convention in August. Does it matter? Probably not, say political experts, but it could – depending on whether Romney or another candidate becomes the clear frontrunner, or the race continues to be closely contested. "This matters in the end only if the many remaining delegate contests are closely split enough to make Romney beatable in Tampa," said University of Texas political scientist Bruce Buchanan, a specialist on the presidency. "That is possible. But given Romney's momentum and Republican concerns about the electability of his rivals, it seems unlikely right now." It will take 1,144 of the 2,286 Tampa convention delegates to win the nomination. Tomorrow's voting will start delivering the answer to the question, with 437 delegates up for grabs in 11 states. Right now, numbers are all over the map. After Washington state's Saturday caucuses, The New York Times, using estimates from The Associated Press, reported that Romney had 180 delegates, Santorum 90, Gingrich 29, Ron Paul 23 and Jon Huntsman 2. But CBS said Romney had 187, Santorum 65, Gingrich 30, Paul 20 and Huntsman 2. The RealClearPolitics web site gave Romney 173, Santorum 74, Gingrich 33 and Paul 37, with no total for Huntsman. "My web site has a different count — we've all got different counts," said veteran University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato. "This is not as precise as people think it is." One big reason is caucus states, in which there sometimes is no clear link between how attendees line up at the caucuses, and the numbers of delegates chosen later. Iowa's famous caucuses, for example, don't actually choose any national convention delegates. Instead, those precinct caucuses chose delegates to county caucuses being held Saturday, leading up to a state convention in June, where the actual Tampa delegates will be chosen. Attendees at the June convention will decide how to allocate the Tampa delegates, which means news agencies can only estimate the breakdown now. Sabato said the potential challenge to the Arizona and Florida delegates "will be a moot point by the time the convention meets – I simply don't buy that there will be a contested convention." "In the tiny, tiny chance of a contested convention," he added, it could turn into a test vote – an early indication of which candidate is strong enough to control the convention. "It's worth noting," Sabato added, "that all the disputes over delegates so far have been settled in Romney's favor."
[email protected] (813) 259-7761