As of the morning after Super Tuesday, this is how it stands:
Delegates needed to win – 1,191
McCain – 597
Romney – 240
Huckabee – 178
Paul – 14
Since John McCain is more than halfway to the magic number with less than half the delegates chosen, the media pundits have told us that he’s a clear lock for the nomination.
But wait …
A lot of people don’t understand how this works. The Republican primary system is very different from the same process by the Democrats. There are more caucuses — a process in which delegates are chosen by a committee. Although voting takes place in caucuses it is often possible to win without getting the most votes in the first round as Huckabee did yesterday in West Virginia. There are several “winner-take-all” states in which a simple plurality of votes, or in some cases a needed majority, yield all the delegates to one candidates. This process was set up early on to help Giuliani win in big states such as New York and California, but since Rudy is out of the race, these states went to McCain.
There are also the so-called “super delegates” which are chosen by party insiders — these are uncommitted delgates, who are elected state officers and leading party officials. At the party convention, they can back anyone they choose. The idea is that most of these super delegates would back the candidate who is closest to striking distance. Even if he does not come to the convention with the clear majority of 1,191, he would still win the nomination by virtue of being the frontrunner.
An interesting scenario has unfolded in which McCain has won only about 40 percent of the popular vote, but has 58 percent of the delgates so far.
So here is the question …
If the majority of the voters choose to back another candidate, such as Huckabee or Romney in the remaining primaries, then would it be possible to form a conservative coalition to block McCain?
Huckabee only narrowly lost South Carolina and Missouri to McCain. But because of the disproportional representation in delegate selection, this gave McCain a huge bump in media coverage and Huckabee lost momentum.
If Huckabee had just won Missouri last night, the scenario would be different right now. It would look like this:
McCain – 539
Romney – 240
Huckabee – 236
Paul – 14
It would also have put the combined delegate count of the three trailing candidates at 490. What if the three candidates chose to combine their effort to overcome the McCain momentum? It would put one of the candidates in a position to overtake McCain.
The loss of Missouri can be made up for in some of the southern primaries coming up later this month. It will be interesting to see whether conservative voters in the upcoming primaries back Romney or Huckabee. Will there be a conservative backlash? What if McCain does not have a clear majority of delegates by the convention? What if Huckabee finishes ahead of Romney? Could we see a scenario in which Romney and Ron Paul throw their support behind Huckabee in order to make up the difference between them collectively and McCain.
What if they proposed a ticket with Huckabee as the nominee, Romney as vice president and put Ron Paul in charge of a cabinet postion that would close the IRS?
That would unite the party and generate excitement and fervor behind a Republican ticket that a McCain/Huckabee ticket could never generate.