Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Caucus Question: Texas 2008

Last week I posed the caucus question; the idea that as the steps in the caucus process progress, the percentage of support for the winning candidate from the first step increases. Anecdotally at least, that has been the conventional wisdom on the subject for the post-McGovern-Fraser reform period. Of course, when the field of candidates is winnowed, the possibility of the winning candidate (in one of the early caucuses) gaining support increases substantially. When the environment remains competitive, as it has among the top two candidates on the Democratic side during the 2008 cycle, the likelihood of such a substantial increase is far smaller. In fact, the Colorado caucuses from this year offer some potential evidence of the opposite happening: a second place finisher gaining delegates as the process continues.

Yesterday, Texas Democrats held their second round contests; the state senate district conventions. In the Dallas area, Obama managed to maintain the same level of support in the second round in the area's five senate districts that he brought in from the first step on March 4. In El Paso County, where Hillary Clinton won, both in the caucuses and the primary, Clinton's support increased to around 94%. What that is up from is a bit of an unknown. The New York Times' Election Guide shows Clinton with a 3:1 lead in El Paso County with 58% of the precincts reporting. So, we know it is an increase, but just don't know by exactly how much. [UPDATE: Across Texas, we now have a better idea about how the most recent step in the Texas caucus system went. Obama seems to have bumped up his statewide total to 58% heading into June's state convention (Thanks to Paul Gurian for the link.).] If that number holds steady when the delegates are allocated at that convention, Obama would net 37 39 of the 67 delegates at stake in the caucus portion of the Texas delegate selection process. That margin would yield a three delegate lead over Clinton across both contests (despite Obama losing the primary). As it stands Clinton holds a 65-61 advantage in primary delegates, but that seven delegate margin in caucus delegates would put Obama over the top in Texas.

What both of these examples illustrate
is that there is another layer to be added to the explanation of the caucus question. To assume then, that the overall winner or loser of the contest's first step gains or loses support statewide becomes an issue of aggregation. Precinct-level winner continue to maintain support or gain in those areas as the process continues. It isn't enough to say that Obama won 37% of caucus support in the precinct caucuses in Iowa and then upped that to 52% in the county caucuses. The question becomes one of whether he maintained and increased the lead in the areas he did well on during the original caucus.

While we wait for Pennsylvania on April 22, the second step caucuses occurring in the interim are worth watching. With the delegate margin where it is (between 100 and 150 delegates), fluctuations in these pre-convention steps could alter the ultimate count of delegates that heads to the convention in August. Which states are we looking at then?

April 4-6: North Dakota state convention
April 5: Delaware state convention
Washington legislative district conventions
April 5-May 3: Mississippi congressional district conventions
April 12: Kansas district conventions
April 19: Washington county and legislative district conventions

[source: The Green Papers]

No matter which candidate we're talking about, every little bit helps.

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