The John McCain camp informed us yesterday that it is “mathematically impossible” for Mike Huckabee to win the nomination. What they won’t say is that McCain stands a good chance of losing the nomination as long as Huckabee stays in the race.
Huckabee only has to win half of the remaining delegates to block McCain from the nomination. And even if he falls a few short of that, many of the delegates in McCain’s column will be “unbound” delegates who may in fact vote for anyone they choose on the first ballot.
This leads one to wonder: If it’s really “mathematically impossible,” then why does Huckabee want to be in the race? And why does John McCain so badly want him out?
Simply: Huckabee does not need to “win” in order for McCain to lose!
The idea of a “mathematical impossibility” is a clever rhetorical ploy that reminds me of “Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby” — a story that is part of American plantation folklore. The tar baby was a trap — a human figure made of tar — used to capture Br’er Rabbit. Br’er Fox played on Br’er Rabbit’s vanity and gullibility to goad him into attacking the fake baby and becoming stuck.
One version of the story has Br’er Rabbit in Br’er Fox’s clutches and as he decides his fate, Br’er Rabbit keeps pleading, “I don’t keer w’at you do wid me, Br’er Fox, so you don’t fling me in dat brier-patch. Roas’ me, Br’er Fox, but don’t fling me in dat brier-patch! Drown me ez deep ez you please, Br’er Fox, but do don’t fling me in dat brier-patch! Skin me, Br’er Fox, snatch out my eyeballs, t’ar out my yeras by de roots, en cut off my legs, but do please, Br’er Fox, don’t fling me in dat brier-patch!”
You might know the rest. Br’er Fox threw him in “dat briar patch,” which is where Br’er Rabbit wanted to be all along. It’s a good analogy for the claim of “mathematical impossibility.” It’s exactly where Br’er “I-didn’t-major-in-math-I-majored-in-miracles” Rabbit wants to be. And stupidly, Br’er McCain seems insistent in flinging him there.
If voters really believe that it’s mathematically impossible for Huckabee to win, they will fall for the idea that it’s impossible for McCain to lose. Then the only voters who will show up at the polls in full force will be Huckabee supporters. So while the “mathematically impossible” win is a clever rhetorical device, Huckabee can cause McCain to lose by simply keeping enough McCain voters from the polls and taking enough delegates from him to block the nomination.
The McCain camp thinks the “mathematically impossible” rhetorical trap will hide a few obvious facts from the voting public who tend to believe the media pundits rather than research how the nomination process actually works. This might in fact backfire as conservatives will resent the propaganda ploy of the “Republicans in name only” who want the election to be declared over before the voters have chosen all the delegates.
McCain will not be the nominee until he has 1,191 bound delegates pledged to him. John McCain is ahead with an estimated 804 delegates after Tuesday’s contests compared to 240 for Mike Huckabee and 14 for Ron Paul.
Can no one in the media do the math? Or is it that they think the rest of us are too stupid to follow it? There are 774 delegates left to win. If John McCain has exactly 804 delegates (and 18 of these are uncommitted delegates who are still able to change their mind) then he needs an additional 387 to clinch the nomination with 1,191.
Ironically half of 774 is exactly 387!
So where is the mathematical impossibility here?
Huckabee only needs to get 51 percent of the remaining delegates to block McCain! Considering the results of the last week alone, he is more than able to do this.
Even though McCain is the delegate leader, unless reaches 1,191 delegates, he cannot win in the first round of the convention. If he loses and it goes to the second round for a vote, he is not guaranteed any of those delegates. Bound or pledged delegates are only committed to the winner of the primary to vote for that candidate in the first round. At the convention, if McCain does not get 51% of the delegate vote on the first round, then they vote again. In the next round, delegates can vote for anyone.
How does one get to be a delegate? The rules are different in each state, but in most people simply apply through the Republican state committee. A delegate might personally be for Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee or even Newt Gingrich, but be bound to another candidate in the first round.
Here’s another amazing fact. Not all the delegates amassed by McCain are bound to vote for him in the first round! Each state allots both “bound” and “unbound” delegates. (I’ve been calling them “super delegates” in my other posts, but in reality this term is only used for the Democrat primaries.) The Democrat super delegates are party insiders likely to support the established frontrunner, while the Republican uncommitted delegates are similar, but they are more likely to vote for anyone they choose in the first round.
McCain currently has 796 bound delegates and 18 unbound delegates. McCain needs 395 bound delegates to reach 1191 of the remaining states.
Now here’s the math (here I’ve again used my blue, red, purple code):
Likely for McCain
Likely for Huckabee
Likely for either
Wisconsin – 37 bound and 3 unbound
Puerto Rico – 20 bound and 3 unbound
Texas – 137 bound and 3 unbound!
Ohio – 0 bound and 88 unbound!
Rhode Island – 17 bound and 3 unbound
Vermont – 17 bound
Mississippi – 36 bound and 3 unbound
Pennsylvania – 0 bound and 74 unbound!
North Carolina – 69 bound!
Indiana – 27 bound and 30 unbound
Nebraska – 30 bound and 3 unbound
Hawaii – 20 bound
Kentucky – 45 bound
Oregon – 27 bound and 3 unbound
Idaho – 26 bound and 6 unbound
New Mexico – 29 bound and 3 unbound
South Dakota – 24 bound and 3 unbound
There are 561 bound delegates left. If we are speaking of the number of bound delegates that John McCain must win, then he needs 71% of the remaining 561 to reach 1191 bound delegates.
Huckabee will probably win Mississippi, Nebraska, Kentucky, and South Dakota. If this happens, then McCain would have to win just about every remaining delegate to be guaranteed enough bound delegates to win the nomination, and that is not likely to happen.
In fact, if Huckabee can win Texas and North Carolina it becomes really interesting once again. Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, Kentucky, Idaho and South Dakota have 385 total delegates up for grabs. Just winning these states along with some delegates from close contests in other states could block the nomination from McCain.
The media pundits lump both bound and unbound delegates in their totals. This is very misleading. Huckabee may block McCain in the first round delegate vote at the convention and then win on a second, third or fourth ballot. Until someone has a majority, the candidates keep striking deals and the delegates keep voting.
Abraham Lincoln won the nomination on the fourth ballot in the Republican convention in 1860 although William Seward was the pre-convention favorite.
So while unlikely, if there is enough dissent in the GOP come summer, McCain could be denied the nomination if he doesn’t have enough bound delegates. But even more likely, if he falls short of 1191 in both bound and unbound delegates, then a conservative coalition could arise that would nominate Huckabee or another conservative as the Republican candidate for President of the United States.
And don’t put it past McCain from doing something really stupid before we get to that point!
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