Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Connecticut Republicans Adopt a More Proportional Method of Delegate Allocation

File this one under things that happened BF (before Florida) last week but FHQ couldn't get to until AFSC (after Florida/South Carolina):

The Connecticut Republican Party State Central Committee recently voted to alter the parties bylaws concerning the method by which it will allocate delegates in the April 24 presidential primary. Traditionally, Nutmeg state Republicans have used a straight winner-take-all allocation rule, but has this cycle changed the formula to allow for the possibility that a portion of the party's 28 total delegates can be allocated proportionally.

Here's the breakdown in Connecticut:

  • 3 automatic delegates (state party chair, national committeeman and national committeewoman)
  • 15 district delegates (3 delegates X 5 congressional districts)
  • 10 at-large delegates (base number of delegates each state receives; five for each US Senate seat)

[NOTE: This is the general method of RNC delegate apportionment. It is constructed in a way that mirrors representation in Congress; a set number of delegates that each state gets and then a separate set based on population. There are also bonus delegates, but Connecticut has no Republican governor, senator or control of either chamber in the legislature; the determining factors along with past presidential election vote for bonuses.]

In the past, the winner of the Connecticut Republican primary -- whether by majority or plurality -- would have won all 25 non-automatic delegates. [The automatic delegates go to the convention unpledged.] But in 2012 that will change (...under certain circumstances). If one candidate wins a majority, then all 25 non-automatic delegates are allocated to the winner; just like it was under the old rules. If, however, no candidate clears the 50% barrier, then the 10 base, at-large delegates will be allocated proportionally based on the statewide vote to all candidates who receive at least 20% of the vote. The remaining 15 district delegates will be allocated on a winner-take-all basis according to the top vote-getter in each congressional district.

Those are details, but what are the implications?

Well, first of all, the change was not entirely necessary. With the primary in the Nutmeg state falling after April 1, no change to the winner-take-all allocation rules of the past was required. Actually, this plan is one that would pass muster with the RNC in the pre-April 1 proportional window. Allocating those base, at-large delegates proportionally according to the statewide vote is the only change to the past Connecticut Republican Party rules that is mandated by the national party delegate selection rules.

It is curious, then, that Connecticut Republicans opted to make any change at all. These are rules better fit for a March 6 primary than an April 24 primary. The prime motivation seems to have been to attract the candidates to the state.

"My belief is this could make Connecticut a little more attractive to our Republican presidential candidates in terms of their attention," Jerry Labriola Jr., the state's GOP chairman, told Greenwich Time in an interview Wednesday.
Labriola also told JC Reindl of The Day...
"We certainly have a lot of [candidates] who are in Connecticut's airspace flying to New Hampshire, but it would be nice to see some of them touch down in Connecticut," Jerry Labriola Jr., chairman of the state Republican Party, said in an interview Thursday.
This seems counterintuitive. If the idea is to get candidate attention later in the race, then would not the prospect of taking away from Connecticut a net 25 delegate gain -- from the winner's perspective -- be better than a far smaller margin between the winner and those candidates clearing 20% of the vote? Why fight over less unless it is a close race? But even then, it would be the competitiveness of the race that drives the candidates to the state and not the delegate change.

Let's game this out a bit, shall we?

Let us suppose that the field has been winnowed to two by mid-April before the northeast/Mid-Atlantic regional primary (Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island) on April 24. New York is winner-take-all if a candidate wins a majority and proportional otherwise. Rhode Island is straight proportional. Delaware is straight winner-take-all. Pennsylvania is a loophole primary. The biggest delegate gain, then, is likely to come from New York on that day. Well, the candidates would be motivated to spend time and money there in the hopes of winning a majority theoretically. There is no perceived gain for Connecticut in switching.

Let's further assume that those two remaining candidates are Rick Perry and Mitt Romney and that the competition for delegates is close.  That is a tough week for Perry on the surface and rejiggers the scenario with generic, nameless candidates above. Presumably, Perry has a few options. One is to focus his efforts on North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia -- more favorable territory on paper -- on May 8; two weeks down the road. In a close race, though, that is ceding a lot of ground to Romney. Plus, this is a date and a series of contests that is being circled on a lot of calendars as the first point at which Romney could lock up the nomination -- or force a Perry exit -- if the race has become a protracted one.  If only for those reasons, Perry would almost be forced to compete in those states.

But where would he compete? The motivation would be to keep Romney from winning a majority in New York (Romney's is the opposite strategy.). Delaware and Connecticut would be natural choices, but Romney would have the same thought. But again, in Connecticut's case the attention would be dependent upon the dynamics of the race and not the rules (Note to self: not that Connecticut Republicans particularly care about that.).

One additional layer to add to this is that Ron Paul, if he decides to stick around in the race as a spoiler, could have an impact. That impact, though would be less on the delegate race than on the vote totals each candidate manages. Even at his best in 2008, Ron Paul rarely topped 20% of the vote in any nominating contest during the Republican primaries. And the four instances in which that occurred were all in caucus states. In a state like Connecticut in 2012, not clearing 20% of the vote means not receiving any delegates. But Paul's vote total could affect the top two candidates. It could more likely keep one of them under 50% and deny Perry or Romney an outright winner-take-all win that otherwise would have gone their way if Paul had not been in the race.

[NOTE: That type of threshold will be more likely in earlier states as they change their rules to meet the proportional requirement. And that has additional implications.]

Conceivably, Paul continuing in the race could help Perry out by hurting Romney in states like New York or Connecticut, where a majority win means winner-take-all allocation. That could lead Perry to focus all of his efforts on Delaware and Pennsylvania where the rules, if not the territory, are potentially more accommodating.

Yes, this scenario analysis is putting the cart WAY before the horse, but -- and this is a big but -- if the race remains competitive into April these are the sorts of discussions that will be going on in campaign headquarters. The lesson of 2008, one that won't necessarily be repeated in 2012, is that rules matter, but that they particularly matter in hotly contested delegate battles. The rules change in Connecticut is a bit of a head-scratcher because it runs against the grain of what the RNC intended with their overall shift in the delegate selection rules: that early states be punished by losing some of their winner-take-all clout and later states be rewarded with a choice of how to allocate. Often that was discussed in the media as a reward of being able to choose winner-take-all rules, post-April 1. But that hasn't really happened overall or in Connecticut. In fact, Connecticut moved in the opposite direction.

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