Back in January, I read an article on Politico that Texas US Representative Ron Paul was going to skip actively competing in the Florida presidential primary to focus on other contests, including the far distant Louisiana caucuses.
I guess people should have taken him at his word.
After Mitt Romney defeated Rick Santorum in the Wisconsin primary in early April, the fight for the GOP nomination ended. The former Massachusetts governor’s victory in dairyland forced Santorum out of the race prior to what probably have been a second-place finish in his homestate of Pennsylvania. After Romney swept the bundle of northeast primaries last week, ex- House Speaker Newt Gingrich will likely end a campign he’s been “phoning in” since placing a distant (and delegate-less) third in Louisiana’s presidential primary.
Yet Paul has shown no indication of bowing out, or at least pulling the plug on his presidential operation. After a lead-off crash in Iowa, the Paulistas have met frustration in most corners of the country. Maine was the high-point, though Paul still fell short in his efforts to finally claim a victory.
And then came Louisiana, The Sequel.
Just as Santorum ran up the score in the March primary, Paul did the same in the caucuses, taking 4 of 6 congressional districts.
You could say the Death Stars aligned for the partisans of the Texas libertarian.
Let me preface this analysis by stating that in no way do I wish to take anything away from Paul or his supporters in Louisiana. He invested in the state and his operatives and volunteers worked hard to pull off an impressive tactical victory. That said, it could not have happened with some help from the opposition (and a bit of dirty ops from Team Paul).
First, the withdrawal of Rick Santorum created an enthusiasm vacuum that many of his state supporters could not transfer from the primary (where Santorum almost won an outright majority against three major opponents that spent time and resouces here) to a leaderless coalition of social conservatives. A number of Santorum delegate candidates bailed with the presidential candidate seeing no point in trudging forward. Newt’s quasi-surrender last week depressed his folks as well.
Secondly, Romey and his Super PAC sat out the caucuses. Were they gunshy after dropping loads of dough in attack ads and direct mail pieces and receiving no return or were they simply conserving all primary funds for a pre-convention general election operation? Or did they simply get caught with their Brooks Brothers britches down, assuming that Louisiana would merely go the way of Rhode Island and Delaware? If the third, then such an assumption shows a lack of understanding about politics in general. The northeast states that voted had congressional primaries on the ballot in addition to the presidential contest. With the former driving turnout of the latter, Romney benefited from incidental votes for “the leader.” However in the case of the Louisiana caucuses, the delegate selection was the only thing on the ballot, which also had restricted polling times and locations. Many voters did not see the point of participating, assuming they even knew about the caucuses since Romney is the de facto nominee.
The Paulistas easily took advantage of not only a vacuum of interest and awareness, but, in the case of the New Orleans area, competition with Jazz Fest (the second largest public event after Mardi Gras) and the Zurich Classic, which is a major sporting event. Had Santorum remained as an active candidate, had Romney tried (he did receive 4x’s the vote Paul garnered in the state primary) or had the caucuses been held on a weekday evening, the results would have been different. Santorum won 63 of 64 parishes in March while Paul got 6%.
So where do things go from here? First, the Paul win will have political consequences. The Washington Post rcently ranked Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal 8th on its list of probable veep contenders for Romney and I suspect the caucus result will do to those odds what Arizona US Senator John McCain’s surprise victory in the 2000 Michigan primary did to then-Governor John Engler’s hopes of being George W. Bush’s running mate. Governor Jindal has stated he has the job he wants and has no interest in being vice-president. Like the Paul Florida deal from January, we should take him at his word.
Secondly, the Louisiana GOP has likely held its last delegate caucus or at least anything resembling this setup. The state GOP has had a tumultuous record with caucuses since 1996 and this one was likely the kill-shot. I’m not stating policy here, just making a prediction.
Third is more inside baseball but still important: delegate selection. According to state party rules, presidential candidates that met the 25% threshold in the primary are entitled to proportional share of the 20 delegates up for grabs in the March contest, thus awarding Santorum 10 and Romney 5. Though the former suspended his campaign, his national operation has stated they want those ten delegates and Romney also wants his five delegates.
The rub is that those delegates will be selected by Paulistas elected in the caucuses at the state GOP convention in June. Will the Paulistas settle for the five uncommitted delegates unclaimed from the primary plus the 18 from winning 4 of the 6 congressional district caucuses or will they get greedy and hijack the 15 Santorum/Romney delegates from the primary? If there’s an overreach, they could run into a seating problem at the Republican National Convention via a challenge before a Romney-controlled credentials committee, where the “ballots controversy” from the caucuses could be factored into the committee’s final decision as to whether the results of the caucuses were tainted through an organized effort by a camp to create systematic confusion to manipulate the outcome.
It remains to be seen if the will of 91,321 Louisiana Republican voters who cast a ballot for Rick Santorum and the 49,758 Louisina Republican voters who cast a ballot for Mitt Romney in a tax-payer funded election could be erased by 150 people chosen in a caucus that drew less than 10,000 participants.