Don’t count Ron Paul out yet. The Texas Congressman may not have secured any headline-grabbing victories in state primaries and caucuses. He may be trailing in the unofficial delegate counts based on these contests. But he is cheerfully pressing onward, confident that he can keep right on going all the way to the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa and possibly even come out of the convention the GOP’s nominee for President.
Even among Paul’s most ardent supporters, few would now argue that the 76-year-old physician is anything but a long shot for the nomination. Long shots, however, occasionally pay off. And Paul has a strategy that he believes just might produce one of the most unexpected come-from-behind victories in U.S. political history.
The Paul campaign understands what few observers of the political scene — and even many players within it — realize: A significant number of the state primaries and caucuses covered by the national media as if they determined the Republican nominee are, as the Paul campaign likes to put it, “beauty contests” that make for an exciting horse race but may have little to do with who ultimately gets the nomination. The media report the popular vote results from a particular state and, unless it is a winner-take-all state, assume that each candidate will receive delegates to the RNC in roughly equal proportion to his share of the popular vote. Thus, reports typically state that Paul has only a tiny fraction of the delegates that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has and that therefore he has no chance of being the GOP nominee.
In fact, says Thomas Mullen of the Washington Times’ Communities website, “no one knows” how many delegates any of the candidates has — not even the Republican Party itself. We know that the delegates from winner-take-all states such as Florida will be bound to vote for the winners of their respective states’ primaries during the first round of voting at the convention. Likewise, in some states (Nevada, for instance), during the first round delegates will be bound to certain candidates on the basis of the popular vote. Beyond that, Mullen writes, very little is certain:
In other states, the process is not that simple. A popular vote is held, but it’s really no more than a preference poll or “straw poll.” After the straw poll is closed, a series of meetings commence in which delegates are elected from a precinct, district or county, which then elect delegates to a state convention, which then elect the delegates to represent that state at the RNC. This process typically takes months after the straw poll is over and the resulting delegates for each candidate may bear little resemblance to the vote percentage that candidate won in the straw poll.
Paul’s campaign believes that his supporters, typically more enthusiastic and devoted to his candidacy, are more likely to remain after the straw poll and participate in the delegate selection process. There is some evidence that they are correct. For example, the Iowa Republican Party confirms that delegate assignment has nothing to do with the straw poll and that Paul may secure the most delegates from Iowa.
Missouri provides additional evidence that Paul’s delegate strategy could succeed. While former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum swept the state in the nonbinding presidential primary in February, he did not perform as well during the later caucuses.
The local caucuses chose over 2,000 delegates to regional conventions, which will then send people on to the state convention, where delegates to the RNC will be bound to vote for certain candidates. In several local caucuses Paul and Romney supporters teamed up to deny most or all of the delegates to Santorum. In at least three counties Santorum didn’t get a single delegate while Paul got a majority of the delegates. In Greene County Paul got 65 delegates; Romney, 40; and Santorum, just six.