Victory doesn’t always mean gain in delegates

State systems keep count fluid

Pay no attention to those projected delegate counts you’ve seen.

Though tallies show that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is ahead of his GOP rivals in the race to capture the 1,144 delegates needed to sew up the party’s presidential nomination, they are misleading.

They don’t account for the pool of 180 delegates that have yet to be doled out by Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado and Maine, all of which have voted — opening the door for a reshuffling of the leader board in the coming months.

“I believe all those delegates are in play,” said Saul Anuzis, former head of the Michigan Republican Party and candidate for Republican National Committee chairman. “So, it’s anyone’s ballgame in those states.”

In other words, the old mantra “a win’s a win” is hard to apply to the nomination race because a “win” carries different meanings among states — thanks to a complex web of rules governing the allocation of delegates to the national convention in Tampa, Fla., where the party will formally nominate its candidate in August.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, for instance, has won four contests but officially has just three delegates committed to vote for him in Tampa. Those three came from his last-place finish in Nevada.

Mr. Romney’s four wins translated into 73 delegates, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas raked in eight delegates without notching a single victory. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich secured 29 delegates, largely from his victory in the South Carolina primary, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. took two delegates out of New Hampshire, then exited the race.

The murkiness of the delegate count is tied to differences in states that award delegates immediately and those that don’t.

New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada handed out 115 delegates. Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado and Maine — the first four of which were won by Mr. Santorum and the last by Mr. Romney — didn’t provide any of their 180 delegates. Instead, four of those states kicked off multistep processes that will determine delegates. Missouri will jump-start a similar process next month.

“The caucus vote is simply a preference poll. It is nonbinding, and in many cases it doesn’t directly correlate to the election of delegates,” said Ryan Call, chairman of the Republican Party of Colorado.

At caucuses there, voters picked people to attend district and state party gatherings in April, when 33 delegates will be decided. Under state party rules, the delegation also will include the national committeeman, the national committeewoman and the state party chairman.

“This is the first step in a multistep process, and it’s routine that the delegates as they move their way along this process re-evaluate the current field and ultimately select a slate of delegates that is reflective of the changing dynamic of this race,” Mr. Call said, noting that Mr. Romney easily won the state’s straw poll in 2008, but Sen. John McCain of Arizona was the presumptive nominee and won every delegate by the time the national convention began.

It is a similar story in Maine, where Mr. Romney eked out a 194-vote victory over Mr. Paul in a presidential straw poll during which voters also tapped representatives to congressional district caucuses and a state convention in May, when the state’s 24 delegates will be decided.

“We have no way of knowing yet until we see the total process done as to who will have the most supporters to the convention,” said Charlie Webster, Maine GOP chairman. “I get the sense that probably both Romney and Paul likely could have delegates to go to Tampa.”

Mr. Webster added that he assumes a nominee will emerge soon after March 6, when 10 Super Tuesday contests are held.

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