Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Montana's Republican delegate selection process

Over at mtpolitics, Craig notes that Obama staffers are calling Republicans and telling them that their vote doesn't matter because of the GOP caucus.

Well that would be true, except that Romney dropped out of the race, and that means that the delegation that had been bound to vote for him at the RNC is now free to vote for whomever they choose. It is as if the caucus had never happened, and we are starting all over again.

What does this mean? Well, in one sense, not much, since Republican delegates have never been formally bound by the GOP Presidential primary. But on the other hand, historically, the Montana delegation has traditionally followed the Presidential primary results pretty closely. It would be pretty silly for a political party to do otherwise.

It would be a bit of a problem, then, if 65% of Montana Republicans voted for (to choose a name at random) Ron Paul in the primary, but then gave the majority of delegates to John McCain.

Or vice versa.

Rumor has it that Ron Paul supporters have been quietly trying to take over county convention selection processes across Montana, and that they have been pretty successful at it. This really shouldn't be that surprising, since RP supporters are pretty enthusiastic about their man, while the other guy on the ballot -- Sen. McCain -- didn't have a lot of grass-roots enthusiasm back when the nomination was still up for grabs.

One would hope, though, that Ron Paul's supporters would see that it will make them and their movement look pretty bad if McCain wins the support of a strong majority of Montana Republican voters in the primary (as he surely will,) only to have Paul's people engineer a takeover of the delegate selection process, awarding the delegates to Ron Paul.

They might fairly argue that the caucus wasn't an inclusive vote, either, and that they are just playing by the rules by working through county conventions to control the delegate selection process at the state convention. And this is absolutely true on both counts.

But on the other hand, at the time that the caucus was being held, there were no presidential primary results to compare the caucus results to. We just had to hope that the caucus (which was the only way that the Montana GOP could be a part of the process on Super Tuesday once moving the primary was shot down in the state Senate) would have representative results. That is to say, we had to hope that the winner of the caucus would be the same person who would have won a presidential primary in Montana, had one been held on that day. While it is impossible to know what would have happened, truth to be told, Mitt Romney probably would have won a Montana primary on Super Tuesday, so in that sense, the caucus probably did yield a representative result. This time.

But again, the caucus is in the dustbin of history, since Mitt Romney is no longer in the race and has released his delegates.

What is important is that this time (that is, when the GOP state convention convenes in June to do a final selection of presidential delegates,) we will have real, statewide primary results at our disposal. Not a telephone poll of 800 registered voter. Not a vague sense of what people think. But an actual statewide election -- John McCain and Ron Paul head-to-head, with real, live voters making the choice.

Montana's delegates sent to the national Republican convention should reflect our primary results. While the party has the right to its selection process (and a county convention/state convention process is perfectly legitimate way to choose delegates,) the integrity of that process depends on having a broad swathe of Republicans involved in the process.

Is the current Ron Paul insurgency representative of where Montana Republicans are right now? We won't know until we see the primary results and compare them to reports from the Montana GOP convention. It seems highly unlikely that the Republican party would allow our delegates to the national convention to vote differently from the way Montana Republicans vote in our presidential primary June 3.

So, there is definitely a good reason for Republicans to vote in the Republican presidential primary. Our votes do matter. The presidential primary vote has always been an authoritative voice about who gets Montana's Presidential delegates to the national convention. This year, will it be John McCain -- or Ron Paul? Will Montana be the only state in the Union to give its presidential delegates to Ron Paul just because Montana Republicans are lukewarm about John McCain or are eager to vote for or against Hillary? Or does Ron Paul have the depths of support in Montana that many of his supporters believe he does? This is the time to find out, one way or another.

Put differently, who is more representative of the Montana Republican Party and the voters that support it? John McCain or Ron Paul? Many Montana Republicans who don't like either candidate may view this as being a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" choice. But for those who do see a clear difference, one way or another, the June 3rd primary is the time to speak your mind.

We will watch the results -- both those at the ballot box, and those at the state convention -- with great interest, curious to learn for sure where Montana Republicans are.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if John McCain had come in 2nd instead of 3rd, would the GOP have awarded him the delegates - usually when a winner drops out of something, the person that took 2nd advances. But wait - the 2nd place person is not politically acceptable to the mainstream GOP.

As the majority of voters don't even know that Ron Paul is still in the race, the primary results may not be all that representative. I'd bet he gets 15-20%, like he has in other states. People like to vote for a winner and most everyone believes McCain is the winner already.

Montana Headlines said...

I am unaware of any state that awards delegates to the 2nd place finisher if the 1st place finisher drops out. So your "usually" is quite simply not true at all when it comes to the selection of a presidential candidate.

States have one of two approaches when a candidate drops out and releases delegates -- either the candidate who drops out gets to say who he wants the delegates to vote for, or the delegates go to being uncommitted.

Montana does not have rules that allow Romney to direct who the delegates must vote for.

So things have reverted to the way they always are -- namely that the convention system determines who the delegates will be.

Traditionally, those delegates have voted the way that the presidential primary turns out.

I think you are right that Paul will get 20%, give or take. That will be more than in any other state. (Paul has only once received more than 10% in a primary election that I am aware of -- and that was in Oregon, I believe.) He has never received even as much as 20% in any state.

There is no vote more "representative" than a full election, so if John McCain gets 70-80% of the Montana vote, and Ron Paul gets 20%, that will be as representative and accurate a vote as can be obtained.