Thursday, January 17, 2008

Winner Take All States

I keep meaning to write about the Democratic race, but the Republican primary is so much more fun. As we lead up to Feb. 5th, the various delegate selection rules will gain significance. Most importantly, 8 of the 22 states holding GOP contests on that date use winner-take-all rules and the six largest of those, New York, Missouri, Arizona, New Jersey, Utah, and Connecticut states add up to more than 30% of the Feb. 5th delegates (330). Since the other states will split their delegations among several candidates, the six winner-take-all states will be huge.

Let's look at how those six states break down. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain are in a dogfight for New York's 101 and New Jersey's 52 delegates. Connecticut looks to be Giuliani's only safe state, so those 30 delegates likely won't be pried away from him. By the way, it's no coincidence that three of the largest Giuliani-friendly states use winner-take-all. His campaign spent much of early 2007 convincing each of those respective state parties to adopt the rule. Utah's 36 delegates are firmly planted in Mitt Romney's hands. While we have no recent polling data out of Missouri or Arizona, earlier polling showed both states tracking roughly the same as the national polls, with the obvious exception that McCain does about ten points better in Arizona. So, McCain is probably leading Huckabee and Romney by about a dozen points, while Missouri is likely anyone's race to win.

Overall, McCain is best-positioned to win a good chunk of delegates. He's more likely than not to win AZ's 53 delegates and is somewhere around tied in NY, NJ, and MO for 211 more. Wins in SC and FL could put him over the top in each of those states. Giuliani's situation is similar. He's got that base of 30 delegates from CT, plus a good shot the 153 delegates from NY and NJ. I'm a bit more skeptical about MO's 58, but a big win in FL could make it possible. Romney's got the 36 from Utah and an outside shot at MO's 58. Huckabee's only real shot to get one of these blocks of votes is to win in Missouri.

Another large blocks of delegates come from states that use a modified winner-take-all system. Those include California (173), Georgia (72), and Oklahoma (41). Each of the three award delegates to the winner of each Congressional District, with a few bonus delegates awarded to the statewide winner. If any candidate has a decent, but not necessarily overwhelming, lead in any of these states, they'll have a good shot at winning and taking all.

That's a solid majority of the Feb. 5th delegates (and a majority of the delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination) that could swing on a few thousand votes in each state.

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