Why Perry May Not Be Able to Win

Barring a catastrophe, Rick Perry can’t beat Barack Obama. Kevin Drum may be correct that Perry can’t win the nomination, but I agree with Adam Serwer that Drum’s reasons Perry can’t win the nomination are mostly reasons that he could.  Drum’s reasons are great arguments against Perry’s viability in a general election, but they’re mostly assets in a Republican primary.

There is, however, a good reason Perry may not be able to win the nomination that Drum missed: the states where Romney should do best are more likely to allocate their delegates by a winner-take-all formula, while the states where Perry would most likely do best are the ones where delegates are allocated proportionally.

In the past, Republican primaries and caucuses allocated most of the delegates through a winner-take-all system. Some states would award all the delegates to the overall statewide winner, others to the winner of each congressional district, and some through a combination of statewide and district-level results.

In 2010 the RNC amended its rules to now require that all states with primaries or caucuses prior to April 1st allocate their delegates proportionally. Many states with later primaries and caucuses will use some system of winner-take-all allocation.

Mitt Romney may flame out by April 1, but if he’s still around and perceived as the mainstream, viable choice with the best chance of beating Obama and the remaining candidates are tea party and nativist favorites like Perry and Michele Bachmann, Perry is at a big disadvantage. Texas and most other states will allocate their delegates proportionally, denying Perry a huge delegate haul. Every Southern state except Arkansas and North Carolina will allocation delegates proportionally. And the winner-take-all states with contests after April 1 include several huge states likely to be more friendly to Romney than Perry: California, New York, Connecticut and Oregon; a few that are harder to predict, like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana; and only a few smaller states, like West Virginia and Kentucky, that would probably be natural bastions of support for Perry if he’s in a fight with Romney.

Much of the GOP primary electorate may prove to be crazy, but if a less-crazy 30-40% sticks with Romney through the early contests and Perry is dividing up the even-more-crazy vote with Bachmann, Paul and the rest of the crowd, Romney will be better positioned to prevail once the race–if it’s still competitive–moves to the winner-take-all states. He could post plurality wins and get most or all of the delegates in the states likely to be most friendly to him.

By the way, if the race goes down to the last contest, Perry’s probably in trouble. The last primary is currently scheduled for June 26th. It’s in Utah.

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9 Responses to Why Perry May Not Be Able to Win

  1. skohayes says:

    That’s strangely reassuring. Perry is a completely corrupt politician, and once the press starts to shine a light on his finances and those of his bigger donors, I hope people will wake up, but i don’t give the Republican primary voters that much credit.

    • Dana Houle says:

      I’m torn. Perry is worse than Romney, but unelectable. Romney is a credible opponent for Obama.

      • RedJenny says:

        That’s my dilema, except that I don’t think Bush II is unelectable. Bush won twice.

        If Obama looks as weak next year as he does now I will register as a Republican and vote for Romney.

  2. Jake Currie says:

    This isn’t quite correct. The proportional allocation applies only to at-large delegates. Also, you can still have a rule that says if a candidate wins >50% of the vote, the at-large delegates can be awarded to them in a winner-take-all fashion. See the update here: http://frontloading.blogspot.com/2011/06/republican-national-committeeman-for.html (FHQ is the place to go for primary calendar news and updates)

    It’s been underreported, and the RNC seems to have not been aware of its own rules in June. But, yeah Rick Perry can win all of Texas’ delegates.

    I think this analysis is dead on though, Romney’s always had a much better shot than most people give him credit for, particularly because of the primary calendar. If these rules were in place in 2008, he may have even had a slight delegate lead going into Super Tuesday (winning “silver medals” in IA, NH, and FL). It’s shaping up to be a delegate race and the Romney campaign seems keyed into this (Romney said he wasn’t competing in Ames because he was focusing on contests where delegates are at stake).

    • Dana Houle says:

      That FHQ post leaves me with the conclusion that…uh, actually it leaves me confused. It’s not the fault of the blogger, but the combination of the rules and the fact that the RNC’s counsel’s interpretation of the rules is in dispute. But I’ve looked at the rules again, and I don’t see where the proportionality requirement applies only to at-large delegates, so I’m wondering if there’s a lot of “legislating from the bench” going on by the RNC’s counsel, and whether that opens things up for legalistic challenges on their rules committee much worse than the Clinton/Obama dispute over Michigan and Florida.

      But either way, proportional or winner-take-all but only in the event of passing the 50% threshold, I think my underlying argument still stands, because as I argued below to DCCyclone, McCain in 2008 locked up the nomination by consolidating enough strength to the left of the GOP primary center in Democratic states like California, New York and Illinois. He didn’t win big margins in most of those places, but he won plurality victories that netted him big delegate hauls. And the FHQ post makes the complimentary point, that even if the proportionality rules allow for winner-take-all allocation in the event of a candidate getting over 50% in a congressional district or the entire state, the 2008 results show it’s far from certain that would happen on a large scale. If Perry does put together a strong campaign, and even if Texas is allowed to allocate delegates on a winner-take-all system for anyone over 50%, the presence of Bachmann, should she still be around, may not be enough to prevent Perry from clearing 50% in some, maybe many of Texas’ congressional districts, and thus winning all of that CD’s delegates, but it would probably prevent him from winning all of them outright or winning the state with over 50%.

      So, if the RNC uses creative interpretation of the rules as they are written, then maybe it’s not as clear a proportional/winner-take-all divide on April 1 as I claimed. But at best Perry has a much higher bar to clear to win all the delegates from places I would expect would be his strongholds than Romney would have to win all the delegates in places I would expect would favor him. Maybe that’s a less robust factor than I believed, but it’s still, I think significant.

      Whatever the case about the RNC’s own confusion, you’re right about FHC. I hadn’t been aware of it, but I’ll be reading that blog going forward and I assume it will become a reference I’ll use quite often.

  3. DCCyclone says:

    Dana, I think you’re making a big mistake that many people make in analyzing state-by-state GOP primaries: you’re assuming the primary electorates are less conservative and less crazy in states where the general electorates are more blue or purple. That’s not true. California, for example, has a largely hard-right GOP, in spite of hard-right GOPers being completely unelectable stateuwide and in most substate jurisdictions. It’s not the case that Perry’s not likely to beat Romney in states where Perry can’t beat Obama.

    • Dana Houle says:

      Crazy is relative. If you look at the 2008 results you see that Huckleberry won several states in the South, and that McCain won the nomination by posting modest wins not in states that were reliably Republican or that were swing states, but in places like California, New York and Illinois, where he had no chance of winning in the fall. If you assume, as I do, that Romney is the most centrist of the viable candidates for the Republican nomination, then I think it’s reasonable to say that he’s most likely to have his greatest strength in the states–in addition to those with large Mormon populations that include parts of The Great Basin–where McCain did best in 2008. And those states are mostly backloaded in 2012.

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