New rules could change outcome of 2012 GOP primary

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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New rules imposed by the Republican National Committee (RNC) this election cycle could dramatically impact the outcome of the 2012 GOP primary election.

In order to garner attention from candidates, most states previously held “winner-take-all” Republican primaries. This year, however, in order to ward off the “front-loading” of  the delegate selection process, new RNC rules have been instituted to increase the number of states using proportional allocation of delegates.

In short, the new rules stipulate that four states (New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada) are permitted hold a binding delegate contest as early as February 1. These contests may remain “winner-take-all” — meaning the state may award all its delegates to the winner, regardless of how slim the margin of victory. (Of course, these states are breaking the rules by moving to January).

Additionally, any state may hold a winner-take-all contest on or after April 1.

But here’s the biggest change: Primary elections held during March must “have some element of proportionality,” meaning they may not be winner-take-all contests.

Morton Blackwell, an RNC Member who serves on the RNC’s Standing Committee on Rules tells me he supports the rules change, lamenting that the GOP primaries had essentially become a “national primary election day.” Blackwell believes this was harmful because it limited the amount of vetting of the candidates.

In explaining his argument against a truncated delegate selection process — which might result in a “fluke” victory — Blackwell posited a hypothetical scenario: “Some candidate’s son gets killed in a tragic automobile accident two days before the primary — then that person might [win] for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not he’s going to be the best nominee for the country or president for the country.”

According to the new RNC rules, any state that holds its binding primary in January will be penalized. “By moving into January,” Blackwell says, “New Hampshire knowingly cut its number of delegates in half.”

“Iowa will not be penalized,” he said, “because, as it turns out, the Iowa caucus situation neither selects delegates nor binds delegates.”

Citing the unpredictability of this year’s primary contest, Blackwell wouldn’t speculate on who might benefit from the rules change. But he did predict that the selection of a GOP nominee is “likely to come later in 2012 than it did in 2008 for the Republican Party.”

Matt K. Lewis