Tuesday, February 14, 2012

2012 Republican Delegate Allocation: Michigan

This is the tenth in a multipart series of posts that will examine the Republican delegate allocation by state.1 The main goal of this exercise is to assess the rules for 2012 -- especially relative to 2008 -- in order to gauge the impact the changes to the rules along the winner-take-all/proportionality spectrum may have on the race for the Republican nomination. As FHQ has argued in the past, this has often been cast as a black and white change. That the RNC has winner-take-all rules and the Democrats have proportional rules. Beyond that, the changes have been wrongly interpreted in a great many cases as having made a 180º change from straight winner-take-all to straight proportional rules in all pre-April 1 primary and caucus states. That is not the case. 

The new requirement has been adopted in a number of different ways across the states. Some have moved to a conditional system where winner-take-all allocation is dependent upon one candidate receiving 50% or more of the vote and others have responded by making just the usually small sliver of a state's delegate apportionment from the national party -- at-large delegates -- proportional as mandated by the party. Those are just two examples. There are other variations in between that also allow state parties to comply with the rules. FHQ has long argued that the effect of this change would be to lengthen the process. However, the extent of the changes from four years ago is not as great as has been interpreted and points to the spacing of the 2012 primary calendar -- and how that interacts with the ongoing campaign -- being a much larger factor in the accumulation of delegates (Again, especially relative to the 2008 calendar).

For links to the other states' plans see the Republican Delegate Selection Plans by State section in the left sidebar under the calendar.


One of the most fascinating aspects of this presidential primary cycle -- to FHQ anyway -- has been the ways in which the early and non-compliant states have adapted their regular delegate selection rules to their after-penalty delegate apportionment from the Republican National Committee. Penalized states are left to their own devices to devise an altered formula that differs from the usual three delegates per congressional district and an n number of at-large delegates alignment. South Carolina, for instance, reduced the per-district delegate count from three to two (14 of 25 delegates) and designated the remaining 11 delegates at-large. Additionally, FHQ speculated that the Republican Party of Florida could do something similar if forced to go "proportional". However, in order not to exceed the Sunshine state at-large delegate total, the party would have to reduce the number of delegates per each of the 27 districts to one with the remaining 23 (out of 50) delegates being at-large.

Michigan is another early primary state carrying a penalized delegation that has to rejigger its delegate allocation to account for the changes. The original plan adopted by the Michigan GOP -- the one with 59 total delegates -- looked like this:
  • 42 congressional district delegates (3 in each of the 14 congressional districts in the Great Lakes state): allocated winner-take-all based on the congressional district vote
  • 14 at-large delegates: allocated proportionally to candidates surpassing 15% of the statewide vote
  • 3 automatic delegates: free to choose whomever.
But that is not what the plan looks like anymore. According to Michigan Republican Party Communications Director, Matt Frendewey, the party will plan on sending the original 59 delegates to the Tampa convention, but with the knowledge that only 30 will be recognized. For all intents and purposes, then, the party is going ahead with its original delegate selection plan. However, the question remains: How are those 30 chosen out of the 59?

According to the updated Michigan Republican Party delegate rules forwarded to FHQ by Neil King at the Wall Street Journal it looks like this:
  • 28 congressional district delegates (2 per each of the 14 districts): allocated winner-take-all based on the vote in the congressional district
  • 2 at-large delegates: allocated winner-take-all2
  • 0 automatic delegates: Penalized states lose their automatic delegates.
[SIDE NOTE: The alternative, FHQ supposes, could have apportioned 1 delegate in each congressional district with the remaining 15 delegates being at-large. That would have tipped the balance toward the at-large total -- actually increasing it by one over the original plan. That also would have made over half of the state's delegates proportional.]

Now, this has a couple of significant implications:
  1. The Michigan Republican Party completely gutted its at-large delegate total and kind of sort of skirted the proportionality requirement in the process. Hey, it is hard to allocate two delegates proportionally.
  2. With such a reduced at-large total, the real battle in the Great Lakes state is not statewide, but from congressional district to congressional district. Strategically, the, if you're Mitt Romney or a Romney-aligned super PAC, you focus on the districts in and around the Detroit area and perhaps cede the rest of the state to Santorum. And if you're the Santorum camp you try and gobble up as much of the remainder as you can and hope to crack into those Detroit areas. 
The bottom line is that barring an overwhelming victory for one candidate in Michigan, the delegate margin is very likely to be close coming out of the Great Lakes state on February 28. In any event, all the attention there should be placed not on the statewide race, but on how things are progressing on the congressional district level. That is where the action will be.

*A tip of the cap to Neil King at the Wall Street Journal for passing along the Michigan rules and to Matt Frendewey at the Michigan GOP for clarifying them.

1 FHQ would say 50 part, but that doesn't count the territories and Washington, DC.

2 The rules state that the statewide winner receives the two at-large delegates, but MIGOP's Frendewey conceded that if the top two voter-getters in the statewide vote over 15% -- the threshold required to receive any at-large delegates -- are sufficiently close in the final results, then the allocation of those two delegates would be proportional; each candidate getting one delegate.

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