Michigan GOP Changes Delegate Rules, Gives Primary Edge to Romney

The Michigan Republican Party voted to break a delegate tie Wednesday night, awarding 16 delegates to Mitt Romney and 14 to Rick Santorum.

The decision, which broke a 15-15 tie that would have resulted under the pre-primary interpretation of the rules, caused disbelief at Rick Santorum's campaign. A spokesman rejected the decision.

Even Romney supporters in the Michigan GOP said the decision was unfair to Santorum.

"I have this crazy idea that you follow the rules," said former Attorney General Mike Cox said after a 4-2 vote by a Michigan GOP credentialing committee, according to the AP. "I'd love to give the at-large delegates to Mitt Romney, but our rules provide for strict apportionment."

Santorum had claimed partial victory and ABC News projected a delegate tie from Michigan's Tuesday primary based on the rules as originally laid out by the Michigan GOP.

Romney won the popular vote 41 percent to Santorum's 38 percent.

There could be a lot of fuss over this one delegate. The notion of a delegate tie has encapsulated the Santorum campaign's spin on Michigan, but perhaps more importantly, Santorum is counting on an energized conservative, tea-party base to oppose Romney for the rest of the primary season. Winning this one delegate could hurt Romney more than it helps him, if the Michigan GOP's contradiction gins up an added sense of injustice in the anti-Romney contingent of GOP primary voters.

Before the primary, party officials repeatedly explained the rules as splitting the two at-large delegates between any candidate getting more than 15 percent of the vote. Under that interpretation, as laid out by party officials, Santorum should have gotten an at-large delegate.

Santorum's campaign accused Romney's campaign of trying to rig the results.

"There's just no way this is happening," Santorum communications director Hogan Gidley said in an email statement to press after the Michigan GOP's announcement. "We never thought the Romney campaign would try to rig the outcome of an election by changing the rules after the vote. This kind of backroom dealing political thug-ery [sic] just doesn't happen in America."

There was no evidence Thursday to show Romney's campaign was involved with the delegate allocation.

Santorum's campaign had declared Michigan a tie in delegates after the vote, predicting that the two candidates would each win 15 delegates. The campaign based its prediction on news reports, published county vote results, and "anecdotal evidence" that each candidate would win 15 delegates.

"This is not a win for Mitt Romney. This is a tie in his home state," senior Santorum strategist John Brabender told reporters on conference call Wednesday morning.

ABC News projected the 15-15 delegate allocation would hold true, based on how the Michigan GOP had explained its delegate-allocation system. In Michigan, delegates are mostly awarded by congressional district, with each district awarding two delegates on a winner-take-all basis. The state's two at-large delegates were to be doled out proportionally to candidates who beat a 15-percent threshold.

Since Romney and Santorum each won seven congressional districts, and since their statewide vote totals were close, it was widely expected that each would collect 15 delegates-two for each congressional district, with the two at-large delegates split evenly.

The Michigan GOP said today that it had explained the rules wrong: The two at-large delegates were to be awarded winner-take-all, according to a Feb. 4 decision by the party's Credentials Committee.

Before the primary, both Michigan GOP chairman Bobby Schostak and party spokesman Matt Frendewey told reporters that the two at-large delegates would be allocated proportionally. The Michigan GOP also told campaigns in a memo that at-large delegates would be awarded using a proportional system.

"The two at-large delegates that remain … they get awarded proportionally-those delegates-and then rounded to the nearest decimal point," Schostak told reporters during an on-the-record briefing Feb. 8, four days after the Credentials Committee had decided to handle things differently.

The confusion evidently stemmed from the penalty Michigan incurred for holding its primary ahead of the calendar pre-approved by the Republican National Committee, which will consequently dock Michigan half of its delegates, bringing the state's delegate total down to 30. The state party maintains that the RNC might not apply that penalty, so it concocted two sets of delegate-allocation rules-one counting 59 delegates, another counting 30. The Credentials Committee's decision, as explained today by party spokesman Matt Frendewey, addressed delegate allocation assuming the RNC will enforce its penalty-which it almost certainly will, in the event that the nomination is not decided before the national convention in Tampa, Fla., this August.

The Santorum campaign had not spoken with the Michigan GOP before making its prediction of a 15-15 delegate tie, Frendewey pointed out today in a conversation with ABC News.