Why Missouri Won’t Have a Winner on Saturday

Mar 15, 2012 3:32pm

Contests typically have winners and losers, readily discernible after the fact.

Missouri’s presidential-nominating mechanism, however, is a rare exception. Although the state will hold caucuses on Saturday–the Show Me State’s main event this primary season, after its nonbinding February primary–no candidate will wake up Sunday morning having banked Missouri as a “win” or a “loss.”

The basic reason: Missouri caucusers won’t vote on presidential candidates.

Unlike Iowa, where caucuses entailed a “straw-poll” or “beauty-contest” vote on candidates, Missouri will be doing none of that. When Missouri Republicans arrive at the state’s 142 county-caucus sites on Saturday, they will only vote for preliminary-level delegates. Not national delegates, to represent Missouri at the Republican National Convention in Tampa –rather, 2,123 delegates to Missouri’s April 21 congressional-district conventions, and another 2,123 delegates to the June 1-2 Missouri state convention. Those conventions, in turn will elect Missouri’s delegates to the Republican National Convention.

Hence, there will be no “results” from Missouri on Saturday, in the traditional sense of the word. We won’t know what “percent of the vote” Rick Santorum won, for instance, because there will be no “vote” to calculate. Since Saturday’s delegates run individually, and don’t have to state which candidates they support, not even the preliminary-delegate totals can be broken down by candidate.

Other caucus states do things differently. Republicans in Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Colorado, Wyoming, and Washington all voted on presidential candidates at the beginning of their caucus meetings. None of those votes had anything to do with delegates, which are being selected by conventions, like in Missouri. But the votes gave media outlets something to report: snapshots of which candidate was favored by the participants, on the days their delegate-allocations were set in motion.

We won’t know who “won” Missouri until June, when 49 of its 52 national delegates have been apportioned to candidates. That’s when ABC News will mark it a “W” for one Republican candidate.

Missouri Republicans have already voted on presidential candidates, but it’s not entirely clear how, or whether, that vote should count.

Thanks to a complicated intra-state political saga, Missouri also held a nonbinding primary in February, one that was appropriately downplayed by major media outlets.

After the Republican National Committee imposed its new calendar rules in 2010, Missouri Republicans tried and failed to delay their Feb. 7 primary to avoid forfeiting half of their 52 national delegates. In spring of 2011, the GOP-controlled Missouri legislature passed a bill to delay the primary, but Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it in July over unrelated concerns (the bill included other provisions, for instance stripping some of Nixon’s appointment powers).

By that time, the legislature had left town for the summer. When it returned, Republicans in the state House and Senate couldn’t agree on priorities for a special session aimed at economic development. In the resultant legislative morass, Republicans failed to move the primary by the Republican National Committee’s Oct. 1 deadline.

GOP legislators later tried to cancel the primary entirely and streamline Missouri’s nominating process, with only the March 17 caucuses on the calendar. But Republican legislators couldn’t agree, as some argued against stripping Missourians of their votes.

The Missouri GOP encouraged Republicans to participate in the Feb. 7 primary, but it had privately lobbied senators to cancel the primary when they had the chance. Rick Santorum was the only candidate to campaign in Missouri ahead of that primary, which he won with 55 percent, beating Mitt Romney’s 25 percent and Ron Paul’s 12 percent. Newt Gingrich was not on the ballot, having made no attempt to qualify.

Effectively, Missouri is running things just like Colorado, with a nonbinding presidential vote and a multi-tiered delegate-selection process, with delegates allocated to candidates at the end. Except in Missouri’s case, that preference vote was held five weeks beforehand, the state party tried to cancel it, only one candidate campaigned for it, another major candidate made no effort to qualify, and its delegate-meaninglessness was publicized far and wide within the state.

Consequently, Missouri’s “winner” has become a matter of semantics, and Missouri has become yet another specimen of labyrinthine GOP procedure and American democracy’s rickety side.

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