As we’re quickly approaching the Iowa Caucus vote on Jan. 3, it is now time to look at the vastly different 2012 Republican delegate selection schedule. Much has changed, timing-wise, since the 2008 campaign. No longer is the system so heavily front-loaded, meaning the nomination fight could drive well past the early March Super Tuesday primary date.
While the media attempts to create political momentum through their coverage of the small, early caucus and primary states, the fact remains that after the first five events – Iowa Caucus (Jan. 3), New Hampshire primary (Jan. 10), South Carolina primary (Jan. 21), Florida primary (Jan. 31) and Nevada Caucuses (Feb. 4), only 143 total delegates of the 2,288 penalty-adjusted votes (just 6 percent) will be chosen. Therefore, if one candidate has a cumulative 35 percent of the pledged delegates after those events, a reasonable figure for the leader, he or she would have only 50 delegates after Nevada concludes, or just 4 percent of the total needed to clinch the nomination (1,145).
It is important to remember that the Florida Republican Party and four other states (New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan and Arizona) chose to forfeit half of their delegations in order to move into a more prominent voting position. Therefore, in Florida’s case, the state with the second largest contingent of Republican congressmen has a total delegate count of only 50.
After the voters in the first five states cast their ballots, we then move onto the second tier of states, stopping in Michigan and Arizona (Feb. 28), on our way to Super Tuesday, March 6. In 2012, however, fewer entities are participating in the Super Tuesday contest. Ten states are holding their primary and caucus elections that day, representing 428 available delegates. This means more states and greater numbers of voters will have a role in choosing the next Republican nominee and do so later in the process.
The nomination could easily be decided during the post-Super Tuesday period that will last through the end of April. During that time, an additional 858 delegates in 21 states and territories will be chosen, meaning approximately two-thirds of the entire pool will be claimed. If the identity of the GOP nominee is still not obvious, then the traveling primary show moves through an additional 10 states in May, with Pennsylvania (72 delegates) and North Carolina (55 delegates) being the biggest prizes.
In the end, it may be early June before a Republican nominee clearly emerges. On the 5th of that month, the largest single state delegation will be apportioned, California (172 delegates), along with New Jersey (50 delegates), Montana (26 delegates), New Mexico (23 delegates) and South Dakota (28 delegates). All voting will conclude with the Utah primary (40 delegates) on June 26.
Today, it’s hard to determine which candidate’s campaign becomes a juggernaut and gains enough momentum to soar toward the nomination. Eventually that will occur, but it now appears, due to a combination of rules changes and the way in which the campaign is unfolding, that projecting the Republican presidential nominee will happen at a much later date than once commonly believed.