Monday, May 29, 2023

What California Republicans Decide on Delegate Allocation May Matter a Lot. Here's how.

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Over the weekend, there was a new poll out of California taking the pulse of, among other things, the state of the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. The Institute of Governmental Studies (UC Berkeley) poll showed former President Donald Trump up big over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in the Golden state. 

But there are some important factors to make note of about where the candidates are relative to one another in a Super Tuesday state that has undefined delegate allocation rules for 2024 at this point. Despite the sunsetting of the rules used in the largely uncontested 2020 Republican primary, California Republicans will not use the current winner-take-all by congressional district method that serves as a baseline method. Well, the state party will not use those allocation rules if they want to avoid losing half of their delegates under Republican National Committee (RNC) rules. 

So what are the alternatives? And perhaps more importantly, what strategic differences could they make for the candidates?

First of all, if the California Republican Party later this year readopts rules similar to those it used in 2020, then Trump would be looking at a big net delegate advantage coming out of the California primary. Granted, that would be weighed against delegates won by other candidates (or not) in other Super Tuesday states. But despite being a blue state, California remains the biggest delegate prize in the Republican process. 

But not as big as it could be.

While Trump, with a nearly two to one advantage over DeSantis in this poll, would hypothetically take a sizable net delegate gain from California, that big plurality would fall short of a majority. And under the 2020 rules, a majority win would activate a winner-take-all trigger for all 169 delegates. Again, Trump would miss out on that with just 44 percent support statewide. However, that 44-26 advantage would allocate the former president 106 delegates to DeSantis's 63. [No other candidates would qualify for delegates by virtue of missing the 20 percent threshold.] By narrowly missing out on a majority, Trump's delegate advantage goes from all 169 delegates to just 43. 

That is a big difference. Yes, a 43 delegate chunk like that is nothing to dismiss. But that is more easily neutralized across other Super Tuesday states for Trump opponents than if the former president had won all of the delegates from California. 

But what if California Republicans opted to split up the delegates, to not pool the at-large, RNC and congressional district delegates? That may also cut further in to any Trump advantage. The statewide results would only affect the allocation of 13 delegates, the at-large (10) and RNC (3) delegates. With a 44-26 win in a California primary, Trump would only win eight of those 13 delegates. DeSantis would be awarded the remaining five and again, no one else would qualify. 

By not pooling all of the delegates, the district delegates -- three per district -- would be allocated based on the result in each of the 52 congressional districts in the Golden state. Trump may win a majority in some of those, something that would net him all three delegates from such a district. But DeSantis may peak above 50 percent in some districts as well. The bigger thing may be the districts where no one wins a majority. The plurality winner would get two delegates and the runner up would get one. And if a third candidate qualifies in a handful of districts, it could, depending on how the rules are crafted, bring the winner (and assume that is Trump for the purposes of this exercise) down to just one delegate. The top three candidates over 20 percent would all get one delegate. 

Understandably, this gets messy in a hurry. However, the point here is that, depending on 1) the allocation rules and 2) how the primary vote is distributed across California, it could shrink Trump's net delegate advantage, making it more possible to neutralize the Golden state in the process. But it could also grow Trump's delegate advantage over the pooled allocation. Now imagine being one of the campaigns trying to figure this out.

Yes, it is just one poll. Yes, it is late May of the year prior to a presidential election year. Yes, there is a great deal of uncertainty still. But depending on the decisions the California Republican Party makes in the very early fall, it could make a big difference come Super Tuesday 2024. Rules matter.

There are a lot of DeSantis analyses out there since the Florida governor officially joined the Republican presidential nomination race, but few are as thorough as Geoffrey Skelley's at FiveThirtyEight. It provides some nice perspective at the outset of DeSantis 2024. 

Invisible Primary quick hits:
  • NBC News has a good summary of the current state of the endorsement primary. [As an aside, FHQ does not know why RNC member is included as an endorsement category in their analysis. Those three RNC members from each state and territory are ultimately going to be bound delegates next year. Those folks are going to stay (publicly) neutral in the vast, vast majority of cases. There will not be many (if any) endorsements there.]
  • After stops in Iowa and New Hampshire after his own launch, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott came home to the Palmetto state over the Memorial Day weekend for a town hall in the Low Country. Scott also has a fundraising trip out west in San Diego planned for mid-June (money primary).
  • New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu joined the chorus of prospective Republican candidates suggesting that a presidential announcement is coming "in the next week or two." Chris Christie has sounded similar calls in recent days.
  • Vivek Ramaswamy swung back through Iowa over the weekend. 
  • Never mind what a crowded field might do to the 2024 Republican race, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says it is good for the Hawkeye state and the Republican Party.
  • Not that it is a secret, but aides to North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum are (anonymously) confirming that the launch of presidential campaign is imminent

On this date... 1975, former North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford entered the 1976 race for the Democratic presidential nomination. And New Hampshire Governor Mel Thomas signed HB 73 into law. This is the now famous (or infamous depending on one's perspective) law on the books in the Granite state that gives the secretary of state the discretion to set the date of the presidential primary, directing them to keep it seven or more days ahead of any similar election 2012, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won the Texas Republican primary and surpassed the number of delegates necessary to claim the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.


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