Monday, November 16, 2009

How Palin Could Win the 2012 GOP Nomination. Well, it'll take more than just winner-take-all primaries.

[Please see a follow up to this post based on some of the comments below here.]

Walter Shapiro picked an opportune time to point out the fact that Sarah Palin could potentially exploit the Republican Party's presidential nomination rules to win the party's nomination in 2012. As I said a few weeks ago in a response to a post at A Plain Blog About Politics (Palin's Future), those approximately 20 states that have winner-take-all delegate allocation rules could prove to be a real boon to Palin's potential chances.

But there are two major caveats that apply:
  1. Are these winner-take-all primaries also closed primaries?
  2. When are these primaries actually scheduled?
On the first point, I think it is fair to say that, given recent polling Palin would do far better in any contest, winner-take-all or otherwise, if it is a contest closed to all but registered Republicans. She just isn't viewed as qualified among independents and Democrats. Now, yes, I'll grant you the fact that some Democrats may choose the "Operation Chaos" route and vote for the Republican with the lowest odds of beating President Obama, but I'm going to set that aside for now.

Secondly, timing plays a role here as well. Are all these winner-take-all primaries at the beginning of the process, at the end or fairly evenly distributed across the primary calendar? The earlier the better for Palin. If the winner-take-all contests bring up the rear, she likely would be winnowed before the race comes to those states. Since the parties are both re-examining how their presidential nominating calendars will look in 2012, there is a fair amount of uncertainty in this. However, based on current state laws across country, the calendar would look something like this if the parties decided to simply maintain the status quo. [The Democrats have already seemingly set into motion a plan to end all February primaries in all but the exempt states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.] If that calendar is the model, fifteen of the twenty states (plus Washington DC) with winner-take-all contests were on or before Super Tuesday. Again, early -- in this hypothesis at least -- is better for Palin than late.

2012 Primaries by Delegate Allocation Method and Timing
Primary Date
South Carolina





New Jersey
New York


District of Columbia








48.64% of total 2008 delegates586 delegates
638 delegates
*Included with open primaries here are primaries that allow only independents and not, in this case, Democrats to vote.
**Assumes no 50% delegate reduction penalty for having gone earlier than that party-designated period for holding contests.
Source: The Green Papers

Sure, technically, if Palin were to win all of the winner-take-all states, that would almost put her over the top (approximately 49% of the total number of delegates). But if she won all those, it is a safe bet that the former vice presidential nominee would receive an additional 2% of the total delegates in the proportional and loophole primary states to take the nomination. Again though, that is not how the presidential nomination process works. It is very much dependent upon timing and momentum.

...and the rules!

If you look at those closed primary states above, we're really talking about a more moderate, comparatively speaking, group of states. They are all primary states that McCain won in 2008. But in the context of that race, it was the first closed primary state (Florida) that mattered the most, and not that McCain was a more moderate candidate that appealed to moderate Republicans in closed primary states. It set the tone for the following week, Super Tuesday. And with the exception of Utah, the Arizona senator swept the winner-take-all states and stretched his delegate lead out to a nearly insurmountable margin.

Is there a scenario where Palin wins the Republican nomination? Yeah sure. If she can win Iowa and South Carolina -- eliminating Huckabee (assuming he runs) in the process -- she can attempt to turn whoever is left (especially if it is Mitt Romney and/or Tim Pawlenty) into Dede Scozzafava and the race into an ideological battle that she might be able to win. Of course, if Christian groups are attacking her abortion record, it may be difficult to see that scenario become reality.

The bottom line is that Palin would have to catch on in a major way to be able to take advantage of the winner-take-all rules. And honestly that would take quite the populist revolt against the Republican Party and its rules; something that has never happened. [And no, I don't count McCain as an exception to that rule.] As Jonathan Bernstein rightfully points out, if only 35% (as Shapiro indicates) of primary voters support Palin in the Republican primaries, it means that 65% are against her. Again, that would be an epic failure of the Republican rules that are set up to guard against that very thing: an insurgent candidate.

Recent Posts:
Is the Idaho GOP Still After a Closed Primary?

Pawlenty: Running for 2012, But Will He Be Running in 2012?

FHQ Friday Fun: You Can't Beat Louisiana Politics


Robert said...

Huckabee seems concerned enough to start attacking Palin. Abortion isn't the only thing that will hurt her with the Christian right. She needs Jim Dobson's approval and the Levi/ Bristol situation is not helping her. The more she is attacked by the Democrats, the more sympathy she gains. It will be interesting to see how her popularity is affected by this book tour.

Josh Putnam said...

I'm wondering if this book release/tour should be treated like a convention. As in, will there be a "book bounce" followed by a regression to the mean?

If Palin has 2012 aspirations, she hopes not. But as Marc Ambinder just said, "Having cited that Palin poll, it'll be my last. Public opinion of her may zip around over the next few weeks. Better to assess in '10."

He's referring to the CBS poll that found nearly half of Republican voters not want Palin to run.

We'll have that and much more to look at next year.

astrojob said...

I don't think this list is quite accurate. CA, for example, is winner take all by congressional district, not statewide. And every congressional district gets the same number of delegates, regardless of whether it's a Democrat or Republican heavy district. Therefore, the handful of Republicans in Berkeley have more power (that is, power per voter) than those in Orange County, which can't be good for Palin.

Josh Putnam said...

Great catch, MP. I meant to add that caveat but got tied up putting the chart together and it slipped my mind. I'll add that in. As you indicate, it will make for an even steeper climb for Palin in Shapiro's scenario.