GOP’S pri­mary cal­en­dar may aid Rom­ney

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HALLOW

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has the mo­men­tum now, but the cal­en­dar may give ri­val Mitt Rom­ney an ad­van­tage over the front-run­ner if the pri­mary bat­tle for the 2012 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion turns into a marathon hunt for del­e­gates.

Thanks to the way the party’s pri­mary con­tests are spread out next year, and the his­tor­i­cal ten­den­cies of GOP vot­ers to fa­vor past can­di­dates, the former Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor could hold a dis­tinct edge in the big, del­e­gate-rich states that vote later in the process.

“Mitt def­i­nitely gets the ad­van­tage if the nom­i­na­tion gets de­cided by big mod­er­ate states like Cal­i­for­nia, New York and Penn­syl­va­nia that vote in May or June,” said Mary Ann Meloy, a former Rea­gan White House aide and a be­hind-the-scenes power in Penn­syl­va­nia GOP pol­i­tics who is un­de­cided on the GOP con­test.

“The way the pri­maries are sched­uled this time adds to the Rom­ney edge,” added vet­eran poll­ster John McLaugh­lin.

Even if one can­di­date man­aged to win ev­ery del­e­gate in ev­ery con­test be­gin­ning with the Feb. 6 Iowa cau­cuses, the Feb. 14 New Hamp­shire pri­mary, the Feb. 18 Ne­vada cau­cuses and the Feb. 28 South Carolina pri­mary, he or she could not at­tain a ma­jor­ity of del­e­gates un­til mod­er­ate New York and Penn­syl­va­nia vote on April 24, by which time at least 1,223 del­e­gates will have been elected.

With states

still jock­ey­ing over their places on the pri­mary cal­en­dar, that date could move up to April 3 if four other states hold their con­tests on March 6, Su­per Tues­day, but even that would still be a month later than it took in 2008 to set­tle the GOP nom­i­na­tion.

What­ever the fi­nal cal­en­dar, many pre­dict that the GOP chal­lenger to Pres­i­dent Obama in Novem­ber 2012 will not be known un­til May or June at the ear­li­est. Wild cards in that cal­cu­la­tion in­clude a stum­ble by one of the two front-run­ners, a surge by Rep. Michele Bach­mann of Min­nesota or an­other of the sec­ond-tier hope­fuls, or the late en­try such of a can­di­date such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, scram­bling the field.

Mr. Rom­ney is run­ning sec­ond in national polls to Mr. Perry, but is beat­ing the Texas gov­er­nor by 8 per­cent­age points in the lat­est poll of Cal­i­for­nia pri­mary vot­ers.

In 2008, Sen. John Mc­Cain of Ari­zona was able to wrap up the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion by early March, build­ing on vic­to­ries in early Fe­bru­ary’s “Tsunami Tues­day” when 21 states voted, and then sweep­ing the March 4 “Su­per Tues­day” con­tests, in­clud­ing Ohio (88 del­e­gates) and Texas (140 del­e­gates).

That eye-blink quick win can’t hap­pen this time be­cause there will be no Tsunami Tues­day; by March 4, 2012, it will be math­e­mat­i­cally im­pos­si­ble for any can­di­date to claim a ma­jor­ity of del­e­gates.

The ex­act magic num­ber for vic­tory next year will de­pend on as-yet un­known fi­nal ap­por­tion­ment re­sults in each state, based on the 2010 cen­sus. But us­ing 2008 as a ref­er­ence, when the to­tal del­e­gate count was 2,380, the nom­i­nee next year will have to ac­cu­mu­late at least half that num­ber plus one, or at least 1,191 del­e­gates.

Be­yond the fa­vor­able pri­mary sched­ule, Mr. Rom­ney may have en­hanced his po­si­tion this time around when he de­cided to drop out of the 2008 GOP nom­i­na­tion con­test in March af­ter Mr. Mc­Cain’s sur­prise come­back.

For last 43 years, ev­ery suc­cess­ful Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, save one, had sought the prize at least once be­fore, be­gin­ning with Richard M. Nixon in 1868, then Ron­ald Rea­gan in 1980, Ge­orge H.W. Bush in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996 and John Mc­Cain in 2008. Ge­orge W. Bush in 2000 was the only ex­cep­tion.

“It’s hard for a Repub­li­can to win the nom­i­na­tion first time out,” said Mr. McLaugh­lin, the poll­ster. “That alone gives the ad­van­tage to Rom­ney.”

“Repub­li­cans nor­mally award the gold to the guy who has been around the park,” added poll­ster John Zogby. “They also nom­i­nate the more mod­er­ate can­di­date. The ex­cep­tion was Rea­gan, but he was next in line af­ter 1976 and he had the good for­tune to bat­tle sev­eral prom­i­nent mod­er­ates for the nom­i­na­tion.”

“That said, the edge goes to Rom­ney just on his­tory,” Mr. Zogby said.

Iron­i­cally, the moves by Repub­li­can of­fi­cials in Ari­zona, Florida and Michi­gan to jump the line and move their del­e­gate­s­e­lec­tion con­tests up to Feb. 28 in vi­o­la­tion of Repub­li­can National Com­mit­tee rules are un­likely to ren­der them the king­mak­ers they had hoped to be.

Even if they are able to seat their full del­e­ga­tions, in­stead of only half, as the party rules dic­tate, at the GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tion in Au­gust, can­di­dates like Mr. Rom­ney and Mr. Perry would not be able to of­fi­cially clinch the nom­i­na­tion one day sooner than the cur­rent April 24 pro­jec­tion.

In any case, the RNC ap­pears to be on the way to achiev­ing its goal of stretch­ing out the pri­mary-cau­cus timetable to avoid hasty de­ci­sions, giv­ing more Repub­li­cans in more of the coun­try a say in who best can win in Novem­ber.

“Given a fully con­tested pri­mary, with­out one can­di­date gain­ing huge mo­men­tum in early pri­maries, the nom­i­na­tion process is likely to go un­til April or May, re­gard­less of Ari­zona, Florida or Michi­gan mov­ing up,” said former Repub­li­can National Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mike Dun­can, who is stay­ing neu­tral in the con­test.

Some think that the out­come will be known ear­lier than May be­cause the com­pe­ti­tion for con­tri­bu­tions will pro­duce mo­men­tum be­hind one of the can­di­dates and pres­sure will mount on the rest of the field to with­draw. It is also pos­si­ble to have a pro­longed war of at­tri­tion like the 2008 Demo­cratic con­test be­tween Mr. Obama and Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, but that will re­quire at least two well-funded can­di­dates.

Mr. McLaugh­lin for one thinks that’s still very much in the cards: “Perry and Rom­ney have the stay­ing power, the fund­ing and the po­lit­i­cal base.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The spread-out 2012 Repub­li­can pri­mary sched­ule may help Mitt Rom­ney if the con­test for the nom­i­na­tion turns into a marathon.

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