Q: I thought Santorum won Minnesota’s primary. Now Paul says he won the caucus? What?
A: Santorum won a non-binding beauty contest vote in February. Ron Paul won the state on Saturday.
Minnesota does not have a primary. We have a caucus. That means our delegates are not appointed by the party beforehand and then bound to a candidate based on the results. Instead, our delegates are selected from the ground up through a painstaking process that moves from caucus (your precinct) to BPOU (a unique Minnesota Republican political subdivision equivalent to a state senate district), then splits into culminating conventions in each Congressional District and State Central. Those nine conventions are where we, the people, actually select the delegates we send to Tampa. (Half are selected by the CD’s, half by State Central.)
Some people are still confused. Even though we get to pick our own delegates, aren’t they still bound to follow the results of the presidential straw poll taken on caucus night? In Nevada, that’s exactly the case: the people still get to choose their delegates, but those delegates must be apportioned according to the results of the Nevada straw poll on caucus night. This is called a binding caucus.
Minnesota, like Colorado and Iowa, is a non-binding caucus state. The straw poll on caucus night has no direct influence on the delegates we ultimately send to Tampa. It is purely advisory. That is why it is often called a “beauty contest.” The conventions do normally take those results into account in making their decisions, but they don’t have to (and usually it doesn’t matter: the candidate who won caucus night has usually either wrapped up the nomination or, like Santorum, dropped out before the conventions). The really important votes on caucus night are for which of your neighbors you want to send to the BPOU convention.
Further and finally, Minnesota’s conventions are also non-binding (typically). Some states have non-binding caucuses, but are able to bind delegates to vote a certain way at later stages of the process. (For example, I believe Romney’s delegates from Colorado are bound, and the Paul supporters are unbound.) We don’t. With rare exceptions, the delegates we elect are sent to the RNC free to vote for whomever they feel is the best candidate.
This is all far too complicated for the media, which finds small-state neighbor-to-neighbor political action — like a months-long caucus — far too boring and complicated to relate to the audiences (who, in fairness, do not seem to demand more accurate coverage). The media therefore treat all caucus states as if they were primary states, and announce that a candidate “won” a state the night of the straw poll… even when the straw poll is completely non-binding and the real winner is not going to be known until May (by which time reporters are sleepy and ready to argue about which presidential candidate hates dogs more, or who the veep candidate will be. It’s like The Hunger Games, man).
You can learn a lot about the process in any given state by visiting TheGreenPapers.com. Hideous site, but packed with data.
Q: I heard Ron Paul has won 20 of Minnesota’s 40 delegates so far. Doesn’t that mean he still has to win one more before he wins for real?
A: No. It is fair to say that Ron Paul has won Minnesota.
Right now, 24 delegates have been awarded:
- PAUL 20
- SANTORUM 2
- ROMNEY 1
- UNDECLARED 1.
There are 16 delegates remaining. Let’s say Santorum wins every single one, plus the undeclared. That makes the count
- PAUL 20
- SANTORUM 19
- ROMNEY 1.
The only way Paul can leave this state without the outright plurality is if the delegates who have already declared for Santorum or Romney unite to stop Paul. (Remember, they can legally do that, because we’re a non-binding state — but the Santorum supporters could just as easily unite with Paul.) That’s worst-case scenario. Best case, Paul picks up the rest and we go to Tampa with
- 37 PAUL
- 3 OTHER.
Neither of those scenarios is remotely likely to happen. It is therefore fair to say that Ron Paul has won Minnesota.
Q: What has been awarded, and what’s left?
A: Nothing remains but our glorious victory!
Minnesota names a total of 40 national delegates (and 40 alternates). Each of Minnesota’s 8 CD’s (congressional districts) has now held its convention, naming a total of 24 national delegates between them. The final four conventions were held last Saturday, after which the Paul campaign had 20 pledged (but not bound) delegates and, as explained above, declared victory by certain plurality.
The remaining 16 delegates will be named at the State Central convention on May 19th. 13 of those delegates will be named from the convention floor. 3 are pre-designated party leaders (I have not been able to find out who they are, but TheGreenPapers says one of them is a soft Gingrich). These are all but certainly going to be against us, one way or the other, so our focus is on the 13 delegates elected from the floor.
Q: Will we win at state?
A: Only the campaign knows, and they can’t tell us without giving the opposition valuable strategic intel.
Since these elections are frequently decided (effectively) by which slate you’re on, it is pretty likely that either Romney or Paul will sweep, or nearly sweep. If you control 50% of the delegates who go into the convention, you are almost certainly going to control 100% of the delegates who come out of the convention (a fact which our campaign has used to devastating effect in a number of CD’s).
The Paul campaign has detailed information on our numbers. I don’t. More importantly, the Romney campaign / “unity slate” people have no idea, and are trying to get intel so they can build a floor strategy for the state convention. The Paul campaign is keeping its mouth shut, wisely. Speculatively, I would say that we probably have a plurality, but not a majority. The people who show up at state are going to be either exactly the same people who went to CD conventions, or, at the very least, will have been elected by the same people. I know the campaign is struggling outstate, in CD7, CD1, and I think CD3, and they’ve been public about that. They only won the total victory they did in CD2 because the convention was running very long, looked primed to run into the night, and former Governor Al Quie stood up and basically said, “Look, guys, let’s just let the Paul guys have this. They’re nice enough folks, and nobody wants to be here all night.” So the Romney people shrugged and handed the victory to Team Paul, even though they could have won had they fought it out. (And good for them!)
In CD4, Paul did have an absolute majority of delegates — but CD4 was also by far his strongest district in the straw poll, so we’ll see. Dunno about CD5, but it’s heavily urban, so he probably is good there, too.
So, if Paul controls CD4 and CD5 and has a partial share in the other six, albeit with a robust resistance in CD2, the convention in May promises to be… interesting.
Q: I heard a rumor that the MN GOP is going to try to pass a resolution at State Central that would bind all our delegates to vote for Romney! Can they do that? Will they? Does that take away Paul’s victory? What can we do about it?
A: It’s unlikely, and very unlikely to matter.
A: This rumor has arisen because of Article V, Section 5, Paragraph C of the Minnesota GOP constitution. Yes, the state convention can pass a motion, on a 50% majority, which would require all delegates elected at state to vote for Romney on the first ballot in Tampa. However, that rule applies only to the 13 at-large delegates (and 3 party leaders) elected at the state convention. The 24 delegates already awarded cannot be changed under the current party constitution.
It’s a stupid motion to pass, too, and here’s why: it violates an old Minnesota tradition, makes clear that the party is going to do anything it can to stop the Paul advance… and gains the establishment absolutely nothing. If they have the votes to pass this motion, then they already have 50% of the state delegates, which gives them control of our national delegates anyway. They might try to pass it as insurance, or to bamboozle Santorum supporters, or just as a weather balloon to judge their level of support in the convention if their intel isn’t accurate enough. But, if they can pass it, it doesn’t matter, because it means we would have lost anyway.
One strategy that might be attempted is to amend the state party constitution to allow a binding motion to apply to all delegates, including CD conventions. This, however, would fundamentally change the character of the Minnesota caucuses, is not likely to be popular with the Santorum supporters (who are, remember, the Republican “base” in Minnesota), and is only questionably legal, since the CD delegates have already been elected without binding. It may also violate national party rules, which I have not reviewed in detail. At a very fundamental level, it goes against Minnesota’s whole political culture. If the establishment tries it, that means they are both very confident (i.e. are certain they have a majority or super-majority in St. Cloud) and either very angry or very scared about Ron Paul.
However, that said, the barrier for passing a party constitutional amendment is quite low in this state: it simply has to be approved by the Constitution Committee and passed by the state convention on a majority vote. I don’t know whether we control the Constitution Committee, and I already told you our odds at State Central. It is far-fetched, but possible, to imagine the MN GOP successfully stripping the Paul campaign of all the delegates it has won so far, at least on the first ballot, depending on what the law is with regards to binding CD-elected delegates ex post facto. (Legal expert opinion here is welcome!)
Q: What if the state convention does manage to bind some of our people to vote for Romney in Tampa — or, heaven forbid, all of them?
A: Maybe nothing. Maybe something.
I don’t know. As far as I can find, GOP national convention rules determine the penalty for a so-called “faithless delegate” who is bound to Romney but votes for Paul. State law and state party law seem to have no sanctions attached to violating a binding, except for disciplinary procedure and removal from office after the fact, if the majority agrees with the removal. It may be our delegates could still vote for Paul with impunity. Maybe not. Anyone who’s been to the RNC and knows this stuff should pipe up about now.
DISCLAIMER: I’m NOT with the campaign. Actually, I thought Paul was crazy as of 2008, it took me a while to warm to him this time around. I know, like, two people in the entire campaign, and one of them I only know as “Matt the Nerdy Neckbeard.” Still, I’ve put in my time as a delegate to the local BPOU and helped out behind the scenes when Paul walked away with the win in CD4. I know more than the average bear about how the Minnesota caucuses work, but I’m not privy to top-level strategy, delegate counts, or legal opinions on party rules.
I hope this answered some questions!