Winner Take All States Loom Large

May 22, 2015 — Florida’s political and legislative leaders, who acted earlier this week to slot the Sunshine State presidential primary on March 15, could have begun a scheduling trend as states move toward finalizing the 2016 election calendar.

As more Republican prospective contenders enter the race –- we could see as many as 18 candidates — the voting schedule gains in importance. With no clear front-runner, the chances of the GOP nominating in an open or “brokered” convention become greater. Therefore, the critical factor in projecting whether any candidate will be able to secure a majority of the delegates before the Republican National Convention begins in the middle of July will be the number of winner-take-all (WTA) states.

The WTA format merely means that victorious primary candidates collect all of the particular state’s delegate allotment. States still have through most of this year to make a final decision about their primary/caucus schedule and how they will apportion their delegates. But, right now, it only appears that six states are opting for the WTA format.

Florida, with its scheduling decision this week, also chose the WTA apportionment method making it the largest state (99 delegates) to do so. Holding its primary election on March 15 or after allows them, and any other state, to choose the maximum delegate apportionment format. Voting before March 15, under Republican National Committee rules, forces the state to employ a proportional apportionment system.

The projected calendar, and again very few of these dates have actually been adopted, suggests the Iowa Caucus (30 Republican delegates) will begin on Feb. 1. The New Hampshire primary (23 delegates) will likely follow on Feb. 9. Nevada (30 GOP delegates), which is headed toward changing its voting system from a caucus to a primary, could vote on Feb. 20 or 23, and South Carolina (50 Republican delegates) will most probably schedule their party primaries on Saturday, Feb. 27. The aggregate delegate count for these first four critical states is only 133, but they will certainly set the trend for the succeeding GOP nomination events.

But March 1 could be looming large as the true “Super Tuesday.” Right now, possibly 11 geographically diverse states controlling a combined 609 Republican delegates, or 25 percent of the total universe, could hold their primary or caucus on that day. If so, none of these states will have the option of choosing the WTA format because they will be voting before March 15.

Some national political commentators have been speculating as to the motivation for some of the lesser known candidates such as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R), for example, getting into the race when it appears their chance of actually capturing the nomination are poor. These analysts are missing the importance of having even a small number of delegates should the convention deadlock. This is one of the reasons we could see a brokered convention. The candidates holding fewer delegates will have less reason to exit the race. Even 15-20 delegates could place a candidate in a significant position when some of the top contenders attempt to cobble together a majority delegate coalition in a multiple ballot affair. And, more often than not in these situations, it is a dark horse candidate who eventually emerges with the victory. So, it would make little sense for any candidate to exit the race.

Therefore, while the modern era nomination pattern has found candidates willing to suspend their campaigns and release delegates well before the national convention begins in order to support the obvious winner, this time we could see the exact opposite trend developing.

The decisions made in the coming weeks with regard to schedule and delegate apportionment formula are much more significant in this election cycle than is usually the case. Therefore, understanding the current nomination procedure may be just as important being the candidate(s) with campaign momentum as we move through the heart of next year’s primary/caucus season.

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