In a Presidential election year, it can even be said we’re ahead of the curve politically. Sort of.
Ever since January, every national newscast has contained at least 17 references to the word “caucus.” It started with Iowa. Republican voters toss aside their corn for a few days and cast ballots that aren’t really ballots to vote for candidates they aren’t really voting for.
A caucus (also referred to as a corncus in Iowa) is different from a primary. Not necessarily bad, but a different way of choosing a Republican candidate.
Voters in a caucus don’t just show up at their local church or fire station, cast a ballot and then get back to watching bad reality television. For one thing, in most (maybe all) caucuses, representatives of candidates are allowed to stump for their choice. In Kentucky primaries, supporters are prohibited from campaigning near an polling place.
In Iowa, for example, there’s nearly 1,800 polling locations. That means a candidate with enough supporters, or enough money to encourage people to volunteer, can make an impression at every spot. A candidate without the same resources might be limited to a fraction of those.
From there, votes are cast and delegates are selected. Based on its voter size, states send a number of delegates to the Republican National Convention (more on that in a minute). The process of selecting delegates varies a little from state to state, most utilizing a formula developed by Stephen Hawking and a dart board.
And that’s where things sort of fall apart.
Voters opinions are great, sure, but they don’t really account for much. Although states are different, going back to Iowa, their delegates are free to choose whichever candidate they want. So even though Rick Santorum “won” the Iowa caucus, it doesn’t mean much if the state’s 28 delegates all really like anyone not named Rick Santorum. On the other hand, some states do have “bound” delegates who are required to actually represent what the voters want.
Which means the GOP’s candidate will be chosen by the delegates at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in August with only a modest amount of say from voters.
So far, caucus “wins” have stayed fairly close between Mitt Romney and Santorum. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have hung in at the bottom of the pile. Up for grabs, though, are 2,286 delegates from across the country. At least 1,144 of those delegate votes will be required for a candidate to receive the party nomination.
So while Gingrich and Paul haven’t “won” any caucuses, it’s possible they could still get the support of enough delegates to claim the nomination.
It’s possible a candidate could stockpile enough bound delegates prior to August to secure the 1,144 vote. It doesn’t seem likely, given how swaying support between the top two (Romney and Santorum) and the bottom two (Gingrich and Paul).
Which brings voters back around to August.
With the ultimate goal a presidential nomination, it might seem like the best thing to do is to get the nominating part over quickly and move on to campaigning against their opposition (i.e., Democrats). There is an amount of strategy in making the caucus portion drag on for most of the year– free publicity. Voters talk about who their candidate might be, the media rehashes it every other week, parodies on late night talk shows and cartoons keep the latest winner and losers fresh in the voter’s mind. It’s a contrast from the regular Republican versus Democrat campaigns that follow, where most voters tend to tune out what’s being said in favor of voting with the rest of the herd.
And then there’s Kentucky. Unlike caucus states, the Bluegrass is a primary state. Essentially, less of an event than a caucus and more just a regular vote. Delegates will still be chosen to represent Kentucky voters with 42 bound delegates and three unrestricted. The differences between primary and caucus are subtle in some regards, less showmanship and more meat and potatoes.
Speaking of potatoes, where’s Dan Quayle?