In Close Race, Every Delegate Is Prized

By: Wall Street Journal

Campaigns Gear Up To Fight for Each Vote In Protracted Contest

With no presidential front-runner in either party after two more state contests over the weekend, Democrats and Republicans are mobilizing for what few have confronted: fighting delegate by delegate instead of state by state, in a battle that could grind on to the late-summer conventions.

“I’ve really only read about it in history books,” says Ben Ginsberg, a Republican lawyer aligned with candidate Mitt Romney.

“Democrats haven’t faced this in 20 years,” says Tad Devine, a veteran of six presidential campaigns who is uncommitted.

In recent decades, nominees have emerged relatively quickly, building on momentum from early successes. Once a contender was perceived as the inevitable nominee, rivals gave up. No one gave much thought to counting delegates. Races were decided before California, the state with by far the most delegates, held its primaries. Iowa and New Hampshire, with about 2% of the delegates needed, have had more to say about who gets nominated.

This year is different. Saturday’s results in Nevada’s caucuses and South Carolina’s Republican primary, like several earlier contests, didn’t clarify much. Now Democrats are scrapping for their South Carolina primary Saturday, and Republicans for a Florida showdown next Tuesday.

Democrats pledged not to campaign in Florida after it set its primary earlier than party rules allow. Yesterday, however, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign was “reviewing all options” after assailing the campaign of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for buying an ad on CNN to run nationally, including Florida. Florida Democrats can vote Tuesday in what will amount to a “beauty contest” without delegates. (Republicans instead halved their delegates).

Regardless of the outcomes, no candidate will have a clear advantage heading into “Super Tuesday,” Feb. 5, when more than 20 states hold contests. Slightly more than half of the Democrats’ 3,253 delegates are at stake that day, and 41% of the Republicans’ 2,380 delegates.

The weekend provided early evidence of the delegate hunt. Most Republicans focused on South Carolina; nobody has won the party’s nomination in recent times without winning the first southern contest. But Mr. Romney, anticipating his fourth-place finish there, instead campaigned in Nevada. While South Carolina was worth 24 delegates, Mr. Romney could get 34 from Nevada.

He trails in national polls behind Arizona Sen. John McCain, who won in South Carolina and New Hampshire, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the Iowa winner. But Mr. Romney, who also won in Michigan and little-contested Wyoming, is the early leader in delegates.

For Democrats, Nevada’s caucuses were hotly contested and ultimately quirky, given the new emphasis on delegates. Sen. Clinton beat Sen. Obama 51% to 45%, but since Mr. Obama won in a broader swath of the state outside Las Vegas, he claimed 13 delegates to Mrs. Clinton’s 12, under state party rules.

The two Democrats previously split the early states. Sen. Obama took Iowa; Sen. Clinton rebounded in New Hampshire. Whoever wins this weekend’s South Carolina primary, the first with a big black vote, could have a slight edge on Super Tuesday. The same goes for the Republicans’ Florida winner next week. For the first time, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will be competing seriously.

Since no candidate can campaign in all Feb. 5 states, the states’ delegate totals and rules for allocating them “will tell you a lot about where the candidates are going to be spending their time and putting their media money,” says Anthony Corrado, a Colby College government professor and past Democratic strategist.

“Everyone will target California,” he adds, because runners-up don’t leave empty-handed. Democrats allocate 370 delegates proportionally among rivals based on their shares of the vote. Republicans divvy most of 173 delegates among the winners of each congressional district.

For Democrats, several factors set up a possible delegate war.

The early contests winnowed the field, and Sens. Clinton and Obama are roughly splitting most of the votes. Each has the organization and funds to fight on, fairly evenly matched. That makes a party rule requiring proportional allocation of state delegates more critical than at any time since it replaced a winner-take-all system in 1988.

If the two keep dividing the vote, they’ll also split delegates, regardless of who wins a state overall. The rule also awards delegates to any candidate who gets at least 15% statewide or in designated districts, as former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards did in Iowa and New Hampshire. But his 4% in Nevada raises doubts about whether he will continue qualifying for delegates and potentially be able to influence the outcome between the front-runners.

“When you start doing the math on this, you see it’s going to be very hard for someone to sort of pull out and become that candidate who’s got 50% plus one” for the nomination, Mr. Devine says. Ideally, he adds, a candidate should have extra delegates in hand to guard against defections, because delegates aren’t bound to candidates.

Democrats no longer presume that someone will clean up on Super Tuesday to become the apparent nominee. The states with the most delegates that day include Sen. Obama’s Illinois and Sen. Clinton’s tri-state base of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Critical to their strategizing: whether a state has a closed contest, where only Democrats participate, or one that is open to independents and, in some states, Republicans. Sen. Obama is considered stronger in open contests; Sen. Clinton is perceived to have the advantage in closed events, where women account for as much as 60% of Democratic voters.

Chief among the open states is California. There, independents’ votes for Sen. Obama could offset Sen. Clinton’s edge among women, Hispanics and lower-income Democrats. Also open are several Southern states, including Georgia, where black votes could help Sen. Obama, and Western and Midwestern states, where his “change” message holds appeal.

Democrats-only rules could help Sen. Clinton in states including New York, Connecticut, Colorado and New Mexico. Offsetting any advantage in Arizona is the fact that Gov. Janet Napolitano is working hard for Sen. Obama. Sen. Clinton suddenly scheduled visits today to California, Arizona and New Mexico, as well as New York and New Jersey tomorrow, leaving South Carolina to Bill and Chelsea Clinton, both popular with black voters there.

Now campaigns are planning beyond Super Tuesday, to neighbors Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., Feb. 12 and Wisconsin a week later. All are considered fertile for Sen. Obama; Sen. Clinton’s side looks to Texas and Ohio on March 4.

A potential wild card: Democrats’ 796 “super-delegates,” the governors, members of Congress and state party leaders who vote at the convention for whomever they choose. Of the roughly 200 who have endorsed, the Clinton campaign figures it has a 120-vote advantage.

For Republicans, the winner takes all delegates in many states. Among the exceptions is California; of its 173 delegates, 14 go to the statewide winner and 159 are apportioned to the winner in each of 53 congressional districts.

As with Democrats’ contests, Republicans’ vary by state whether they are closed to non-Republicans or open, and the consequences are likewise potentially decisive. For example, Sen. McCain, a maverick who is unpopular with many party conservatives, does best in open contests with independents. Mr. Romney does better with Republicans only. Unfortunately for Sen. McCain, Florida and key Feb. 5 states have closed primaries.

But none of the Republicans can be sure of their strategies until Florida votes. A loss for Mr. Giuliani, who has staked his candidacy there, would be a blow. Whoever beats him will feel empowered to take him on in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Messrs. McCain, Huckabee and Romney all need a win in Florida to try to break away from the pack — and to win its 57 delegates.

Write to Jackie Calmes at

* Content From the Wall Street Journal supplied by Elva Ramirez:
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