Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Delegated Authority

Pennsylvania is about to become center stage in the 2012 road show known as the Republican presidential primary race. Already the robocalls have begun, the mailbox is filling up, and the four, no, make that three, remaining Republican presidential candidates have begun spending more and more time in the Keystone State making appearances. Endorsements are starting to come in from key Pennsylvania political players. All of these are mere opening acts to the main event, our April 24 primary.

If you've been paying attention, Mitt Romney, the heir apparent, isn't going over so well with the conservative base of the Republican Party, and those folks had mostly thrown their support behind Pennsylvania's native son, Rick Santorum. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are hanging in as spoilers for the time being.

Usually, one candidate breaks out of the pack of contenders and gathers up the minimum number of delegates needed - 1144 - to secure the nomination.  Delegates are those folks elected in each state to go to the party's national convention (this year, the Republicans are meeting in Tampa, Florida at the end of August) and cast their votes in support of the eventual nominee.

This year, that hasn't happened, although Romney leads the pack so far with 651 delegates collected (of a total of 2,286 available) as the result of the states that have held primaries so far. Santorum was in second with 275 before dropping out and releasing his delegates, and as of this writing, Gingrich and Paul bring up the back of the field with 138 and 71, respectively (updates can be found here).

For awhile, it was looking more and more like a brokered convention would be how our 2012 nominee is selected, and Gingrich, at least, is apparently still banking on that.

Not much attention is often paid to the delegate races, because usually it's a foregone conclusion long before the convention who the (one) nominee will be. However, this election cycle, they may play a larger role in determining how our next presidential candidate is chosen.

If you didn't know, delegates are the 'official' way a nominee is selected. You and other voters go and cast your choices at the polls, but it's often a 'beauty pageant' showing of who's most popular, because the delegates you elect at the same time make the actual choice for you. Some states' delegate awards are proportional; some are winner-take-all. In many states, delegates are committed to a particular candidate, and run that way. If you vote for them, you know you are also casting a vote for the candidate they support. 

In others, such as Pennsylvania, they are "uncommitted" and can vote for anyone. Even if they support one candidate early on, they can change their mind and vote for someone else. Pennsylvania's are mostly uncommitted.

The last time a Republican presidential convention opened without the nominee having already been decided in the primaries, resulting in a brokered convention, was in 1976. That year, the Republican primaries gave Gerald Ford a slight lead in the popular vote and delegates entering the Convention, but not enough delegates to secure the nomination. A brokered convention was predicted;however, Ford was able to secure the necessary support on the first ballot to edge out Ronald Reagan.

Gingrich ,who had hoped for better results in Southern states (thus far he's only won in Georgia and South Carolina), at least accurately predicted the likelihood of this scenario early on, and has been pretty upfront about his current, Plan B strategy, which is to hang on long enough to get to the convention (assuming no one assembles those elusive 1,144 minimum delegates) and negotiate to secure the nomination there. Historically convention delegates tend to be more conservative and vote accordingly.

Pennsylvania has a fairly large number of delegate votes up for grabs next Tuesday. Of the total 72 available, 52 are elected, usually 3 or 4 per Congressional District. Anyone can run if you get the minimum number of petition signatures; however, those receiving the party's endorsement are usually party insiders. The remainder are chosen by the PA GOP and are given to party brass who do not have to run for those slots.

I presume our counterparts on the Democrat side of the aisle proceed in a similar fashion.

As a Republican committeewoman, I do what many of my counterparts don't - I reach out to the campaigns directly and volunteer. I've made many great friends and connections that way, and have learned much about how campaigns are run and how to get out the vote.

As I do every election cycle, earlier this year I reached out to the various presidential campaigns and offered to help  circulate nominating petitions to get them on the ballot. Many of you in my own voting district in Lower Providence know I came to your doors asking you to sign whichever candidate's petition was your preference, along with petitions for other Republican candidates for local office.

One of the presidential campaigns asked me to consider running for a delegate slot in my Congressional District (6). It's something that's been on my "bucket list" for a long time, and I thought it might offer our residents a unique perspective and voice into the process, so after learning what I needed to do, I agreed. It involved gathering at least 250 petition signatures to get myself on the ballot, and although that meant being out in snow, ice, sleet, rain and howling winds in early February to get them for me and all the other candidates whose petitions I carried, we got it done and I hand delivered most of them in Harrisburg in person.

Despite being a good Republican party soldier for a long time (the very first campaign I ever worked on was back in 1984 as part of the Arizona effort for Reagan-Bush, let alone the numerous ones I've worked on in Pennsylvania), I was then served with a petition challenge from my own party. Even though I had not declared myself for any particular candidate, the PA GOP tried hard to knock me off the ballot (as it turns out they had already chosen Romney as their guy, and presumed since they hadn't asked me to run, I wasn't one of 'them'). Talk about no good deed going unpunished! It turned out to be a time consuming distraction from my real job for a couple of weeks.

(I am constantly amazed by how many in party leadership selectively choose to forget that the primary is supposed to be all about the voters vetting and selecting a candidate to be the nominee...and not the powers that be in the party's hierarchy dictating to voters which candidate they should line up behind. All too often, those annointed candidates are selected for reasons that have little to do with how well they represent their party's values and, lately, are more likely a reflection of how well they can self-fund their campaigns).

There's a whole eye-opening story behind how that played out which, if you're a Republican, should disgust you, but I'll go into that another day. I didn't mind the challenge, per se; it's merely a tactical strategy used all the time in campaigns, and I knew I could survive it since I'd followed the rules. It was how they went about it that I took issue with. Long story short, I didn't fold my tent in response to their bully tactics, threats and attemps to intimidate, and they withdrew their challenge before we had a hearing on it.

So, I'm on the ballot in Congressional District 6, the only woman among the 9 total candidates vying for the 3 available delegate positions. The GOP organizations of the three counties that make up CD6, Berks, Chester and Montgomery Counties, all conspired to pick the three folks they'd jointly endorse for these slots, and of course, I wasn't one of them.

All three endorsed delegate candidates currently hold some sort of elected position, from township supervisor up to a US House of Representatives incumbent who's House seat is also up for election this year, and for whom I personally gathered almost 100 petition signatures. Arguably, I may be the only 'outsider' of the entire group of 9 candidates.  For a list of the other 2012 Republican delegate candidates in Congressional District 6 and who they are/where they're from, click here.

As to which candidate I support,  let me preface my comments by stating that there are things I like, and don't like, about each. None of them are perfect, and frankly, I think this year's field is not a strong one. When I circulated petitions, voters in my district were all over the place - no clear preferred candidate was evident. I'm currently leaning toward Gingrich, but whomever the voters of CD6 cast the majority of their votes for is who will receive my support if I'm elected. And if I'm not...here's to 2016!


No comments: