Texas could see silver lining in troubled primary


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and Photojournalist SCOTT MCKINNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE


Posted on February 13, 2012 at 7:25 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 14 at 1:08 AM

AUSTIN -- A lawsuit over Texas voting maps has already caused the state's presidential primary to be postponed once, and insiders say it will likely be postponed again. Despite that uncertainty, it may not be all bad when it comes to Texans' say in the presidential race.

With the horse race for the GOP presidential nomination neck-and-neck, there could be a silver lining for the troubled Texas primary.

"It originally was thought that if we would go earlier, we'd have a big impact because people thought the race would be over quickly," Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri told KVUE.

With earlier hopes for an April 3 primary date all but dashed, Munisteri is now setting his sights on April 17.

When it comes to electing a presidential nominee, it always comes down to math. Candidates need 1,144 delegates to clinch the GOP presidential nomination. According to projections by CNN which include unpledged delegates, Mitt Romney leads with an estimated 121 delegates, followed by Newt Gingrich with 38, Rick Santorum with 37 and Ron Paul with 25.

Many of the delegates, like those from non-binding caucuses like Iowa or Minnesota, are not pledged to any candidate, and projections of delegate numbers are only speculative. Even factoring in unpledged delegates, it would be next to impossible for any candidate to reach the magic number before April 17.

"As a result, it looks like this process will drag on at least until April, maybe even to May, in which case going later actually ironically may turn out to be more important than going earlier," said Munisteri.

What's more, Texas has gone from winner-take-all to assigning delegates based on a percentage of the vote. With 155 delegates up for grabs, that means even a third place candidate with 20 percent of the vote could take home around 33 delegates -- a big incentive for any candidate.

"So Ron Paul and other candidates that are not near the top of the list at that point will be able to still probably get some delegates out of Texas, which will allow them to continue to stay in the race," said University of Texas professor of history and politics Jeremi Suri. "They'll also be able to raise more money as a consequence, so it is actually making it harder for any one nominee to take the whole pie."

Suri adds that although Texas may be well-positioned for a late-round state, voters will still be subject to an agenda largely shaped by the preceding Super Tuesday primaries. Suri says a primary earlier in the cycle could have given Texans far more power in shaping the field of candidates -- possibly preventing or postponing Rick Perry's early exit.

April 17 could benefit one more way. With no primaries scheduled on April 10, campaigns and national media would have two full weeks to concentrate on the Texas primary.

"It would be great for television stations," said Munisteri. "I'd expect you'd see the airwaves flooded with tens of millions of dollars worth of ads, and we'll have a lot of appearances by the presidential candidates and a lot of national attention for the state of Texas."

Insiders warn that Texas' influence will only be significant if the race remains fairly tight by the time Texans cast their ballots. When it comes to hammering out a solid primary date, much still hinges on whether an agreement on voting maps can be reached in time. Federal judges in San Antonio are scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday and have ordered all parties in the lawsuit to be ready to reach an agreement. Few, however, seem optimistic.