Guest Column: The hunt for GOP delegates continues

Steffen Schmidt

The Florida primary is over. Let’s catch our breath and assess.

In order to become the candidate of the Republican Party, someone will need to get at least 1,190 delegates. The process of collecting these elusive creatures is complex. While we get excited about the caucuses and primaries, harvesting delegates is actually a backbreaking and difficult job.

Here is the delegate standing so far:

Mitt Romney: 84

Newt Gingrich: 27

Rick Santorum: 10

Ron Paul: 8

In Florida, Romney’s 46.4 percent win against Gingrich’s 31.9 percent was a convincing victory for the former Massachusetts governor.

In a perfect world all of the candidates would fan out across the United States running their campaign in state after state being rewarded by grabbing all of the state’s delegates such as Romney was doing in Florida or getting some percentage by a modified proportional representation as is the case in others. It seems at least for today that we are in an ideal world.

Many of the coming contests are non-binding caucuses, some are proportional caucuses, Michigan and other states have “hybrid primaries” where some delegates are awarded by district and statewide, some proportionately and some winner-take-all. Some states have proportional primaries, Illinois has a “direct election.” Arizona has a winner-take-all primary Feb. 29. This endless series of caucuses and primaries stretches out until March 6, “Super Tuesday,” with 11 contests. Then it continues until the Utah primary June 26.

If you have a headache by now, you can thank federalism, which gives every state the right to concoct their own system for selecting delegates. It makes it complex but also interesting. And this opens opportunities for contenders other than Romney because they can live in their big Greyhound buses and pick some low hanging delegate fruit. Remember, none of these people seem to actually “work” for a living.

By all estimates, if Gingrich can find the funding he can slog on and force Romney to keep a sharp eye on his campaign through many other contests until the others quit or he reaches the magic number 1,190. We can’t predict that date because it depends on how many delegates others will suck away from Romney along this path. This will be costly for Romney because in many states candidates can get pieces of the primaries and caucuses because they allocate delegates proportionately.

Gingrich is not a quitter and will not easily concede to Romney until every cent has been expended, every free media attack statement launched. He is mad as hell and won’t take a defeat by a “liberal, New England, dishonest opponent,” as Gingrich would put it. In Florida he ungraciously didn’t even call Romney to congratulate him. Oh, by the way, Gingrich is a very rich man and can easily pay for many months’ worth of his “crusade” against Romney.

I believe Gingrich will partly “live off the land” through March and try to take advantage of the concern about Romney’s candidacy among many Republicans, especially in the South during “Super Tuesday.” Romney will still be short of the necessary delegates by then.

For Gingrich, a problem is that there are no debates planned in the near future and Gingrich did very well in the South Carolina debates, a slingshot to Florida where he definitely did not do so well in debates.

Then, like pesky no-see-’em insects, Santorum and Paul still keep biting. They are on the campaign trail, and as long as they stick with it, the delegate collection process will be protracted.

Romney will no doubt need to put up with a field of four candidates who have hopes of at least gaining some delegates and have some influence at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., in August.

However, the psychological impact of the Florida win is very big for Romney since he was the choice of every major demographic except the very conservative voters who were a stronger support for Gingrich.

This could be a long and interesting GOP primary season.

Now it’s on to Nevada where Paul and Romney are well-established favorites.