By Stephen Kaufman
Although former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s eventual nomination as the 2012 Republican candidate for president has been presumed for several weeks, his May 29 primary victory in Texas put him past the 1,144 delegates needed to ensure he will be the nominee.
In other words, Romney has won the support of more than half of the 2,286 available Republican delegates who will gather in Tampa, Florida, in late August to formally choose him as their presidential candidate.
For the Democratic Party, President Obama crossed the threshold on April 3 by securing the 2,778-delegate majority needed for his party’s nomination at its national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, in early September.
In U.S. primaries and caucuses, voters indirectly vote for their presidential candidates. In reality, they select delegates who pledge to support particular candidates at the party’s national convention. Romney’s nomination as the Republican challenger to President Obama is nearly certain but he will not be formally nominated until the delegates meet in Tampa.
President Obama telephoned his congratulations to Romney May 30, and said “he looked forward to an important and healthy debate about America’s future, and wished Governor Romney and his family well throughout the upcoming campaign,” according to a statement from the Obama campaign.
VARIOUS FORMULAS FOR AWARDING DELEGATES
The contest to win enough delegates is complicated by the fact that each state party has its own rules for how it awards its delegates. Some have a “winner-take-all” system, such as Florida, where Romney won all 50 delegates on January 31 because he received the majority of votes in the state’s Republican primary.
A different method is a “proportional” system, such as in New Hampshire. That state’s 12 delegates were divided among candidates who received at least 10 percent of the vote in the January 10 primary. In that contest, Romney won the majority of votes (39 percent) and gained eight delegates, but second-place finisher Ron Paul of Texas (23 percent) won three, and third-place Jon Huntsman of Utah won one delegate with 17 percent of the vote.
In other states, such as Oklahoma, the allocation of delegates follows yet another formula. Candidates receiving at least 20 percent of the vote divide up the state’s 43 national delegates unless one candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote. In that situation, the winning candidate would secure the support of all the Oklahoma delegates.
This system has been described as the “modified winner-take-all” approach. In Oklahoma’s March 6 Republican primary, none of the candidates won more than 50 percent of the ballots cast, so the delegates were awarded proportionally. Former Senator Rick Santorum won 14 delegates, with 34 percent of the vote, followed by Romney and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, who each won 13 delegates (28 percent and 27 percent of Oklahoma’s votes, respectively).
To further complicate matters, some state parties do not require their national party delegates to vote according to the results of the primary or caucus, so the delegate count remains “projected” until they cast their ballots at the national convention. In practice, most delegates follow the wishes of their state’s voters.
Each convention also has “super delegates” — party leaders and elected officials who are delegates because of the positions they hold.
By early April, it became clear that Romney was the likely Republican presidential nominee, given his lead in pledged delegates over his closest challengers, Santorum and Gingrich. Since then, Romney has shifted his campaign’s strategy and messaging to focus on his November contest with President Obama and build enthusiasm among Republican voters.
Clearing the 1,144-delegate hurdle has helped Romney ensure that when the Republican delegates gather in Tampa, there will be no surprises or last-minute challenges to prevent him from formally receiving his party’s presidential nomination.
After hearing the news, Romney addressed supporters in Las Vegas May 29, and told them, “This was a big day, by the way — 1,144, we finally got there,” adding, “It is a great honor.”