The national political dialogue is centered on which candidate is up or down in various national, and specific state level, polls. Yet when voting begins in about 5 months, the path to the Republican nomination won’t be as simple as coming out on top in final polling, or even voting on election day.
The nominating process will tax all but the most organized campaigns.
On Tuesday, the Colorado Republican party announced that it was scrapping its caucus’ presidential preference poll. The party will still meet in caucuses to select delegates to the national convention, but the state’s 37 delegates to the GOP convention in Cleveland won’t be tied to any candidate.
In effect, Colorado just cancelled its Republican caucus. A candidate could hold a substantial lead in state polling when the party meets to choose its delegates, but that lead wouldn’t necessarily have any impact on the delegates selected or how they would vote at the convention.
Republican parties in Virginia and North Carolina are considering a change in state law to require a “loyalty oath” for candidates on the primary ballot. The proposed law would require potential candidates to swear to support the eventual Republican nominee as a condition for qualifying for the ballot.
The courts would very likely uphold any “loyalty oath” requirement as they generally defer to the political parties to control who has access to their ballots.
All the states are required to submit their rules governing their presidential nomination procedures to the RNC at the end of September. The RNC will also likely act after that time to finalize its rules for allocating delegates to the convention and detail to what extent delegates are bound to vote during the formal nomination.
The recently announced considerations in these three states, though, are just the latest examples of how much particular attention campaigns have to pay to the rules in individual states.
A 2012 report from the Congressional Research Service noted that “the [Republican] party sets certain general parameters for the nominating process in The Rules of the Republican Party and the Call of the Convention, but leaves many of the details of delegate selection to the state parties. Consequently, there is a great deal of variation in how each state party elects its delegates to the national convention.”
In the Iowa Caucus, for example, registered Republicans meet and first vote for their presidential preference. Voting is conducted in public and could take a considerable amount of time to reach a result. The results of this vote are reported in the media.
After this vote, however, the caucus continues and votes to select individual delegates to county conventions, which will then elect delegates to a state convention. If a candidates’ supporters don’t stay at the caucus for this part of the vote, the actual delegates awarded may differ from the initial vote. In 2012, for example, Ron Paul eventually won a majority of the delegates out of Iowa, even though Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum edged him in the early vote.
Seeing the caucus vote through to the end, beyond the early preference vote requires a great deal of organization. In 2008, Barack Obama racked up large delegate victories over Hillary Clinton by astutely navigating the caucus process.
Even primary states have widely different processes. In some states, like New Hampshire, voting is open to any registered voter and delegates are awarded to the winner of the statewide vote. In Illinois, however, campaigns have to identify 3 individual delegates, and alternate delegates, in each Congressional district. Even if candidates that lose the statewide vote could win delegates by winning the votes in a particular Congressional district.
The rules for simply getting on the ballot also vary widely. In New Hampshire, a candidate only has to pay a fee of $1,000. In South Carolina, though, the fee is $40,000. Some states will require filing petitions signed by registered voters in the state, with many further requiring that the signatures be obtained from specific Congressional districts.
Winning the Republican nomination requires a vote of delegates at the national convention. To secure the necessary delegates, candidates may have to run up to 50 separate campaigns, each with its own rules, requirements and quirks. Doing well in polls or having good performances during the debates is just one part of the equation.
Eventually, a successful campaign has to evolve into a national organization with a deep political staff to navigate the process in each state. In a sense, it is on the job training for a would-be President.
It is a further challenge for a candidate outside the conventional political establishment. Unknown party leaders will set many of the rules of the state delegation selection process. Overcoming that also will be a good test for a candidate. The very first battle against the political status quo will be the fight to even compete for delegates.