Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Extent of Jeb Bush's Alabama "Problem"

This story that the Jeb Bush campaign and its supporters failed to line up a full slate of delegate candidates littered the FHQ Twitter stream last night and has picked up some steam this morning. Let's be real here: It is certainly something of a problem, but the degree of that problem is being overstated. Much of the reporting thus far on the matter -- on the heels of the Alabama filing deadline late last week -- is missing quite a bit of context. And, really, much of it has missed the real story.

But first, Jeb.

Alabama Republicans will send 50 delegates to the national convention in Cleveland next year. Three of those are automatic delegates (the state party chair, the national committeeman and the national committeewoman) which leaves 47 other delegate slots that candidates, their campaigns and supporters have to fill by filing to run. Of those 47 spots, Bush has 32 delegate candidates covering 29 vacancies. That is short of the more than full slates that candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio had filing in support of them.

Looks bad, right?

It is. If a campaign touts its strength in filing a full slate of delegate candidates in Tennessee -- as the Bush campaign has done and others have reported -- then it says something that the campaign has missed the mark further south in Alabama. It says something about organization in an area of the country -- SEC primary territory -- where Bush has spent some time this fall. It says something more that, compared to the other candidates, Bush ranks sixth in terms of the number of Alabama delegate candidates that filed pledged to the former Florida governor.

There are, however, a couple of matters that have gone unsaid and/or underreported in this story. One is that the above it just one comparison. The second is that the process in Alabama -- the rules -- are being overlooked. Both factors when not considered help to overstate the extent of the problem for Bush in Alabama.

Sure, when we look at the 32 delegate candidates that filed on Jeb Bush's behalf compared to the 76 potential delegates that aligned with Carson and Cruz, it looks kind of ominous. Again, it is. FHQ does not want to understate that. In the invisible primary, that is a signal that organizationally, Bush is lagging behind his competitors. Think of this as a straw poll of activists in Alabama, which it functionally is. Jeb Bush just came in sixth. That's winnowing territory.

Yet, look back four years and you will see that all four candidates who made the Alabama presidential primary ballot -- Gingrich, Paul, Romney and Santorum -- all had gaps in the delegate slates that appeared on the ballot next to their names. And yes, that is more an excuse from the Bush perspective than anything else. 2016 is not 2012. However, if FHQ had asked you before the Alabama filing deadline -- so absent this revelation about delegate slates there -- whether Bush would get more or less than 12 delegates (of 47 total), I suspect most would have taken the under given the crowded field of candidates.

Why 12 delegates?

That is the number of delegates Mitt Romney won after the March 13 Alabama presidential primary in 2012. If Bush is a stand-in for 2012 Romney, then those 32 delegate candidates covering 29 slots do not really look all that bad. They cover the bases. Romney won 8 delegates statewide. Bush has 14 at-large delegate candidates covering 13 (of 26) slots. Romney won the first congressional district in 2012 but with less than a majority (two delegates) and was runner up in the fifth and sixth districts (one delegate each). Bush has at least two delegate candidates in each of those three districts.

The delegates slots that Bush is most likely to win, then, are covered. The harder part, perhaps, is getting to the 20% of the vote statewide and in the congressional districts to qualify for those delegates. That strikes FHQ as a much larger Alabama problem at the moment.

Well, what if the at this moment problem is not a problem after the March 1 primary in the Yellowhammer state? What happens if Bush actually exceeds expectations and wins more delegates than his campaign has delegate candidates to cover?

First of all, Bush would still likely have enough delegate candidates to cover his bases even given a winnowed field. But on the offhand chance that Bush really exceeds expectations, and he wins, say, 35 delegates, what happens?

The Alabama Republican Party allocation rules state that voters cannot vote for Jeb Bush and then vote for delegate candidates aligned another candidate to fill in blanks left by Bush. There is no procedure to discard ballots for conflicts (i.e.: voting for Bush and then voting for a Rubio delegate where there is no Bush delegate), but the comments of the Alabama Republican Party seem to indicate that the topline, presidential preference vote has precedence over the delegate votes.1 The candidate is going to get their delegates in other words.

But how?

Well, if a voter cannot vote for Bush and then a delegate candidate not aligned with Bush, then that means that Bush is winning the top line vote. However, that also means those delegate slots are not being filled. Those slots are vacant.

The first step in filling those vacancies is through the alternate delegate process. The alternate delegates are not elected directly on the ballot. Instead, the state party executive committee selects alternates for the statewide at-large delegates while alternates for congressional district delegate slots are selected by the congressional district committees. There could theoretically be some jockeying on these committees to stack the alternate slates, but recall that these decisions are being made after the vote in the presidential primary. And again, the state party has said that the candidates will receive their rightful share of the delegates based on the vote in the primary.

And in the event there are any shenanigans based on one candidate exceeding expectations -- at least as measured by a comparison to how well their campaign did in lining up delegate candidates -- then the state executive committee will fill those slots.

Is all this a black eye for Jeb Bush and his campaign during a downward trend for them? Sure, but is it the end of the world? No. Bush seems to have his bases covered for even a reasonable result for him in Alabama. But even if he exceeds even the 2012 Romney baseline, the Alabama rules provide cover.

...and that is true for the other candidates who played the delegate filing game even worse than Bush as well.

1 Those comments from Reed Phillips at ALGOP (via Daniel Malloy at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution):
A candidate that wins enough of the vote to be allocated any delegates, will still receive the number of delegates that they won in the primary. If there are any vacancies in delegate slots then the delegates that did qualify will vote to fill those vacancies for that candidate. If a candidate didn’t have anyone qualify as a delegate for them but wins enough of the vote to have delegates, then the state executive committee will vote to fill those slots.

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1 comment:

Mario Incandenza said...

You meant 'e.g.,' not 'i.e.'