The Lindsey Graham Factor

June 3, 2015 — South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) officially entered the presidential contest Monday, with many questioning why he is running. Barely registering in any poll outside of his native South Carolina, the new Graham campaign must be rated as a long shot at best. But, looking at the possibility of a brokered convention changes the dynamics for he and other second tier candidates.

As the Republican field continues to expand – Graham’s candidacy now means nine individuals are official GOP candidates – the aggregate campaign direction becomes less predictable. In addition to the nine contenders, six more potential candidates including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, are poised to soon make formal declarations. Two of them, ex-Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Donald Trump, have scheduled June 4 and 16 announcement dates, respectively.

The larger the campaign field with no sustained front runner means the odds of anyone failing to secure support from a majority of the 2,470 Republican delegates (1,236 delegate votes are required for nomination) are much greater. Thus, a candidate such as Graham, who is not viewed as a serious contender for the nomination but has potential to win some delegates, can become an important factor in deciding exactly who will be the nominee.

The important South Carolina primary, either the third or fourth stop on the nomination calendar probably scheduled on or around Feb. 20, 2016, possesses 50 delegates. The Palmetto State, so far one of 15 places that use congressional districts for some part of their delegate allocation formula, will figure heavily in the Graham calculus.

Of the 50 South Carolina delegates, 21 are assigned to the state’s seven congressional districts. The winning candidate in each of the specific CDs will receive three winner-take-all delegate votes. South Carolina, like every other state, receives 10 at-large Republican delegates and three party officer convention votes (state chairman; Republican National Committeeman; Republican National Committeewoman). Under RNC rules, this state is awarded 16 bonus delegates. The national party formula awards extra delegates for winning electoral votes in the 2012 presidential election, and more for electing US senators, a governor, controlling the US House delegation, and state legislative chambers. State law dictates the voting powers of the at-large and bonus delegates.

Therefore, Graham can win multiple delegates with first-place finishes in various congressional districts. By winning his former 3rd District, the neighboring 4th, and possibly the 2nd, 5th, and 6th Districts, it is possible that he could walk away from the South Carolina primary with as many as nine to 12 delegates with the opportunity of gaining more from the 29 at-large and party officer delegates. Even a small accumulation such as this could make him a factor at the national convention, should the nomination come down to a margin of just a few delegate votes. Thus, the 2016 second-tier candidates could have a greater voice than has been the case in 96 years, which is the last time the Republican nomination was decided through multiple roll call ballots.

The intrigue deepens.

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