Thursday, May 3, 2012

Delegate Selection is Never Easy in Nevada

Why is it that it often appears as if the political parties in Nevada are on the verge of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory concerning the matter of national convention delegate selection?

It mostly has to do with the scrutiny attendant to having the state's caucuses thrust into the early, pre-window portion of the presidential primary for 2008. Hillary Clinton brought suit against casino caucuses, won the 2008 Nevada Democratic caucuses anyway, but due to the construction of the state party delegate selection rules lost out in the delegate count to then-Senator Barack Obama.

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney won the 2008 Nevada Republican caucuses while almost every other campaign was focused on the South Carolina primary on the same day. The January caucuses were on the up and up, but that a candidate overwhelmingly won them and then withdrew from the race ultimately had the effect of throwing subsequent steps in the delegate selection process into chaos. The void created allowed Ron Paul supporters -- and leftover Romney supporters aligned with them -- to overtake the process, leading to the cancelation of the state convention and later selection of national convention delegates by the Nevada Republican Party State Central Committee.

In each case, the legitimacy of the overall processes was called into question by at least some faction within each party. And by all indications the Nevada Republican Party may be heading down that very same road -- but for slightly different reasons -- in 2012.

FHQ was less concerned than most in February with the molasses-slow count of just less than 35,000 precinct caucus votes on February 4,1 but it looks like that may have been an omen of things to come. If that wasn't, then the Paul efforts to overrun the special -- and later-than-the-rest caucus -- set up for Jewish caucusgoers observing the Sabbath should have served as a signal. Of course, unlike the 2008 experience, the Nevada Republican Party had at least laid the groundwork for a more orderly process in 2012 by making the vote in the precinct caucuses binding on the ultimate allocation of delegates. The winner of the caucuses, also unlike 2008, stayed in the race. Undeterred by either of those changes, however, Paul supporters pressed on; striving to -- like 2008 -- win as many delegate slots to the county and state conventions as possible.

And that has the Nevada Republican delegate selection process at a crossroads heading into the state convention this coming weekend. On the one hand, Paul forces are well-positioned to affect a repeat of the 2008 state convention (...albeit, the campaign would hope without the cancelation and selection of delegates by the state central committee). But on the other hand, the Republican National Committee Legal Counsel's Office has intervened,2  threatening the state party with just that: ensure that the delegate selection rules laid out carry the day or run the risk of a challenge to the delegation at the national convention in Tampa.

In sum, this is a recipe -- a match and a canister of gasoline -- for an interesting state convention. The first test case of this will occur early on Saturday (10:30a-12:15p) at the state convention when there is a vote scheduled to adopt the proposed rules. If onlookers are attempted to game where the potential points of derailment are, this is the first. Recall that the RNC legal counsel pointed out that it would find any attempt to alter any of the rules "improper". But it is just that sort of thing that the faction of Paul delegates at the state conventions to be held thus far have attempted.

Overall, both sides, I would argue, have pretty good arguments no matter how this progresses, but arguments not without flaws.

The RNC is making the case that rules are in place and that the delegate selection and allocation should reflect those guidelines. The proportional allocation of the state's 28 delegates, in the RNC's view, should allot Romney 20 and Paul the remaining 8.3 Of course, the reallocation of delegate positions bound to Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum is potentially premature. Both candidates have suspended their campaigns but the Nevada Republican Party rules call for a withdrawal from the race for delegates to be released. That is debatable, but the RNC seems to be assuming a withdrawal nonetheless. The key on this point is if there are any Santorum or Gingrich delegates at the state convention who are willing to fight for those spots. Additionally, it should be noted that the withdrawal scenario described in the rules fits in a different window of time: a withdrawal after the state convention but before the national convention. There is seemingly no pre-state convention withdrawal scenario accounted for in the NVGOP rules.

Expect to hear this from Paul-aligned delegates on Saturday. They will make the case that those Santorum and Gingrich bound-delegates are fair game and should not be redistributed based on a reallocation of the total number of delegates according to the collective Romney-Paul share and division of the precinct caucus vote. Instead, Romney should have his base 14 delegates allotted to him and Paul, his 5 with the nine other delegates still bound to Gingrich (6 delegates) and Santorum (3 delegates). If there are Gingrich and Santorum delegates there, then they can claim those slots. Otherwise, the remaining top vote-getting delegates -- be they Paul or Romney supporters -- claim those spots. If the Paul forces involved in Nevada are as strong as some are indicating, that would allow them to pick off all or most of those nine delegates. That would in turn equalize the delegate count between Paul and Romney in the state.

Granted, this all assumes that there is a relatively tame fight over the small segment of the rules discussing but not completely specifying the withdrawal of candidates. The Paul campaign could settle for a 14-14 delegate count out of Nevada, but it could also attempt to completely overwrite the proposed rules for the convention during that adoption vote, swinging even more -- or all -- of the delegation Paul's way.

Strategically, the split is probably a more reasonable route -- as opposed to completely rewriting the rules -- simply because attempting to bite off more than Paul state convention delegates can chew may force the Nevada GOP's hand. And by that, I mean, pulling the plug on the convention, as was the case in 2008. That would throw the delegate selection decision to the state central committee again. [The committee is slated to meet the Sunday after the convention is set to adjourn.]

One other note (or perhaps notes): The national committeeman and national committeewoman posts are up for election at the state convention as well. Those are obviously two of the three automatic delegates (who are also proportionally allocated -- but bound to the candidate of their preference) from Nevada. The catch is that their term of service does not begin until they are ratified by the Republican National Convention. It isn't clear what would happen if there is a snag in that ratification process -- whether the current members would cast votes during the roll call or what. But a roadblock seems more likely if committee-people-elect come from what is viewed as an illegitimate state convention. Much, it seems, would depend on when that ratification vote took place relative to the roll call vote (likely before it as it has some bearing on the credentialing process).

Buckle up, folks. This convention promises to be a fun one.

1 As I've argued, following the 2008 experience and what had happened just a month earlier in Iowa, the Nevada GOP was probably right to take their time counting ballots (...even if the outcome was not nearly as uncertain as had been the case in the Iowa caucuses).

2 To follow up on the post from yesterday on Paul's leverage moving forward, take the RNC's letter as at least some evidence of the national party/the Romney campaign attempting to engage in this process to avert any chaos at the national convention.

3 Fabulous Las Vegas Sun reporter Jon Ralston cited the 20 Romney delegates in his write-up of the letter from the RNC last night and confirmed with FHQ that that is based on the reallocation of Gingrich and Santorum delegates from the first round.

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