Primary Math: How Are State Delegate Numbers Determined Anyway?

Feb 24, 2012 6:00am
ap republican debate arizona ll 120222 wblog Primary Math: How Are State Delegate Numbers Determined Anyway?

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Mitt Romney has so far acquired the most state delegates in the 2012 Republican primary. He has 108 after winning voting contests in New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada and Maine, according to ABC News projections.

Rick Santorum has also won four states – Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado - but collected 72 delegates to date.

Four states each, but a sizable lead in delegates for Romney: Here’s why.

First of all, Santorum’s victory in Missouri’s Feb. 7 primary came with no delegate prize. The “Show-Me” state will not begin the process of awarding delegates until its March 17 caucuses. The other reason has to do with delegate totals awarded per each state victory.

In terms of delegates, not all states are created equal and, to put it plainly, some state victories will mean more for a candidate than others.

Delegates are allotted to states based on two factors. The first is a mathematical formula connected to a state’s congressional districts. For example, California, the state with the largest congressional delegation, also awards the highest number of delegates of any state primary: 172.

The second determining factor is a bit more puzzling to a non-political wonk. In addition to congressional districts, delegate totals are also based on the Republican Party’s influence throughout the particularly state. State’s get “bonus delegates” for hitting various marks; electing a Republican governor, electing a majority of Republican leadership to either chamber of the state’s legislature, electing a Republican senator within the six year period between Jan. 1, 2006 and Dec. 31, 2011, etc.

Bonus delegates are factored into a state’s overall delegate total; they are not distinguished in any way and serve no individual purpose. They are, however, an important key to understanding how the delegate totals are determined, and why the numerical strategies applied to a general election cannot be applied to a primary election.

For example, on March 6, when 10 states hold their voting contests on the day known as “super Tuesday,” Georgia will offer the largest delegate reward. Seventy-six delegates are at stake in Georgia’s contest, 10 more than in the swing state of Ohio, which has 66 delegates total.

Ohio has a larger congressional delegation than Georgia; 16 districts compared with Georgia’s 13. But Georgia has two Republican senators, a Republican governor and Sen. John McCain, as the GOP presidential nominee, won the state in the general election in 2008. Ohio has a Republican governor as well, but only one Republican senator and Barack Obama won that state in 2008. Because of the bonus delegate factor, Georgia wound up with more delegates than Ohio.

Sixty-six delegates is significant, however, and GOP candidates are fighting hard for Ohio. The state will be a crucial swing state in the general election, and a victory there will be a good trump card for any of the GOP candidates.

From a delegate standpoint, though, a candidate would be just as well served, potentially even better off, with a victory in Georgia, which will essentially be written off in the general election because of its strong Republican leanings.

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