By John Maginnis
Regardless of the results from Florida, the three main Republican presidential contenders say they are in it for the long haul. If so, Louisiana, the 30th state to vote, could still matter when its March 24 primary is held.
The leading candidatesí campaigns are beginning to take form here. So far, the stateís major Republican officeholders and congressmen are on the sidelines, as is Gov. Bobby Jindal, now that his choice Texas Gov. Rick Perry has flamed out. The lone exception is Congressman Rodney Alexander, who is state chairman for Mitt Romney, as he was in 2008.
Former Congressman Bob Livingston is closely involved in his long-time friend Newt Gingrichís campaign. Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, is state chairman for Ron Paul, who has a large and highly motivated volunteer organization here.
With Louisiana holding the only primary on that date, the attention of the candidates and their free-spending super PACs should make each Republican feel that his or her vote really counts. Too bad for them, though, that their votes wonít count as much where it counts, in the stateís delegation to the national convention in Tampa.
The columnist all but dares the reader to turn the page by trying to explain how the Republican nomination process works in Louisiana. Suffice to say oneís vote in the primary counts the least. At most 20 of the stateís 46 delegates to the national convention are allocated to presidential candidates based on the primary election, and only to those candidates getting at least 25 percent of the vote, among the highest such thresholds in the country.
So letís just assume Gingrich gets 35 percent in the Louisiana primary, and that Romney and Paul tie at 24 percent, with the rest going to Buddy Roemer, Rick Santorum and the also-rans. Gingrich thus would be allocated seven delegates to the national convention and the other 13 at-large delegate slots would be officially uncommitted, since no other candidate reached 25 percent.
We are just getting started. The real action takes place at the April 28 caucuses, where Republicans will gather at 30 sites around the state, in civic centers and high school gyms, to elect 150 delegates to the state convention in Shreveport on June 2, to which another 30 delegates will be chosen by the Republican State Central Committee.
Those 180 state delegates will convene to elect 18 national delegates, three from each congressional district. Presidential campaigns can organize slates of delegates to run, but those 18 delegates go to the national convention officially uncommitted, as do the 13 at-large delegates not allocated from the primary (in our example), plus eight more nominated by the state party executive committee: 39 in all not chosen through the election conducted by the state. A candidate could win the primary with over one-third of the vote, but still have only seven of 46 delegates officially committed to him, while the votes of two-thirds of the primary electorate count for naught.
Even then, the primary winner would have to work to get seven delegates that he wants and trusts, because all district and at-large delegates are chosen by the state convention. Itís conceivable that the many highly motivated and organized supporters of Congressman Paul could so dominate the caucuses that they control the state convention and choose his loyalists as delegates, even if they are officially uncommitted. If Romney and Gingrich canít match his ground game in the caucuses, Paul could run third in the primary and still have the support of most of the stateís delegation at the national convention.
By comparison, state Democrats, though without a real nomination race this year, by rule allocate 64 of 71 delegates according to the primary results, with only a 15 percent threshold for a candidate to receive delegates.
As a non-public organization, the state Republican Party can run its nomination process as it pleases, even if minimizing the input of the average GOP voter. But because state taxpayers foot the bill for these presidential primaries, the Legislature should insist that the allocation of delegates reflects the will of the voters, in the best democratic tradition.