The March Republican Primaries

by Christopher O'Brien

vote boxIn the long marathon known as the Presidential race, there is often confusion in how we select our next President. Here, we’ll break down the rules and various issues that come up during the process.

One of the many myths disseminated during this primary season is that delegates selected after March 15th are awarded on a winner-take all basis. Not true! So let’s discuss.

First though, on Thursday the US Virgin Islands selected 9 delegates to the Republican Convention. Usually, this isn’t news, but it was determined that the US Virgin Islands will leave their 9 delegates as uncommitted towards any candidate thus far. The prospect of a potential brokered convention leaves the territories delegates to be potential power brokers. Residents of the Caribbean island territory cannot vote in the general election, yet in this way their voices will make impact on the future of our nation.

Before we continue talking about the next delegate races, let’s talk about the value of race thus far. John Kasich has the fewest delegates in the race, but a win at home in Ohio will be pivotal. He will more than double his delegate count, but a win will give him credibility in the industrial MidWest and potentially across the north and into New England states that have yet to vote. He is presenting himself as the most moderate candidate and could also have appeal on the West coast if he gains traction. Thus far, he has had strong 2nd place finishes in New Hampshire and Michigan.

Marco Rubio is appealing to a similar crowd as Kasich. He also has to win his home state of Florida, and not just for the delegate count. In the general election, Florida has the fourth most electoral votes of any state and has been one of the most important states to win in past Presidential contests. Florida also comprises a diverse population similar to the states that will vote in the upcoming months.  Many residents hail from the north and northeast as transplants and still have younger relatives back home. Winning his homestate could propel the former House Speaker to win other contests in the north with broad appeal. His generational theme may also have stronger resonance.

In contrast, Ted Cruz’s natural base in the Southern and Plains states have already mostly voted. He took advantage of that base and positioned himself well as the leader with political experience. If Kasich and/or Rubio go on, there will be a fight as to whether Cruz should consolidate the support he has already enjoyed or if his appeal can broaden to those less religious northern states. Unlike Rubio and Kasich, he already won his home state. This is not a typical election year framed by passed conventions. Demographics of the Republican race show that policies and style have been more important than traditional routes of the past. Cruz may pull it off, especially because of his lead and a strong anti-Trump sense within the party. What remains to be seen is if his more traditional style will change the electoral college map in November’s general election.

Donald Trump’s mission is to simply continue what he’s already been doing. With the delegate math, reaching the magic delegate number is still not easy for him because he’s only won about 33% of the delegates allocated thus far. If he is strategic about focusing on winner-take-all races where he can wrack up large numbers of delegates with on only a plurality of the vote, he may be able to garner 50% of the delegates faster. With a fragmented race, he will need to appeal to a certain percentage of Rubio or Kasich supporters if they drop out. If he wins outright though, it still won’t be until very late in the process – perhaps in the last few electoral contests. The races in Ohio and Florida will be very telling.

Let’s move to the week ahead.

The District of Columbia’s 27,472 registered Republicans will vote on Saturday between 10 am and 4 pm. This should be an interesting race because all of these Republicans are urban dwellers. They only comprise about 6% of all voters in D.C. and will vote at a single polling location (the Loews Madison Hotel on 15th Street). Many likely have transplanted from somewhere else yet are so close to the very seat of power that the candidates are running against. What would it say if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz won this race? Or would Rubio or Kasich be proud to promote the win of their 19 delegates as they take their race to voters who are mad at capital city itself?

Whatever the outcome, it is a reminder that everyone is a citizen of our nation, even those who may be employed by it or have the greatest influence on it. Each citizen only has one vote at the ballotbox, no matter their position.

The Republican or Democratic Party are both privately affiliated organizations, so they choose how their nomination rules are chosen. The US Constitution doesn’t govern this phase of the race at all. Both major parties have general rules that govern their July nominating conventions, but allow each of the respective states to decide how to assign their state delegates to a candidate.

In the District of Columbia, if a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, then that candidate will receive all 19 delegates. That has only occurred in one race thus far, when Marco Rubio won 75% of the vote in Puerto Rico last week. If no one receives 50%, then the delegates will be assigned proportionately to candidates receiving at a 15% threshold.  The Green Papers website has compiled the rules for each race.

So let’s move to the pivotal races on Tuesday, March 15th. Five large states will be voting. Two of them will assign delegates in a winner-take-all format: Florida and Ohio which just happen to be the home states of Senator Rubio and Governor Kasich. They are expected to do well there, but Trump is making a strong play in both to block them from proceeding further. The other three states will award delegates more proportionally. North Carolina will grant one delegate for every 1.39% of the vote each candidate receives. This totals 79 delegates and will be a great opportunity for even lesser candidates to try running up their numbers. There is no threshold requirement.

Missouri has a winner-take most format with two formats. First, candidates will gain 5 delegates for each of the state’s 8 Congressional districts won. So, a candidate who does strongly around St. Louis could win delegates without winning the state. Geography could be used to one’s advantage here. The statewide winner will receive an additional 15 delegates.

Illinois has a confusing “Loophole” format. I’m not really sure how it works, but it seems to be a semi-proportional system where delegates themselves may also have an option to disregard the selection of the people. The reason they could do this is that in many states delegates are chosen separately from the Presidential Preference Poll, as some contests are called. A voter may indicate their “preference” for a candidate, but that vote is not always binding, depending the state’s rules. This isn’t a concern in most states, because delegates are usually bound by the preference of voters – even if a delegate might favor someone else. In North Carolina, delegates are chosen through a series of caucuses and conventions that begin at the county level, then the congressional level, and ultimately at the State level. These conventions also serve to nominate other candidates for Congress and the state.

I this is somewhat helpful in understanding this process further. The best way to ensure that you have a voice in the process is to register with a party due to the influence that parties have in the selection of Presidential candidates. If you wait until November, there is usually only two major party candidates. Voting in the primary will allow you even more selections on who those candidates will be.

As a party member, you may also opt to attend local party meetings at the Town level. It is a good way to receive news about policy decisions that affect local education, taxes, and other issues. Those town committees also fill vacancies in town government and send delegates to state conventions. Even if you are not a delegate, simply knowing about these events will allow you to be a participant or observer at these functions and ensure they are run fairly.

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