With much of the political world focusing on polls of the Republican candidates, which have proven greatly unreliable, the most crucial part of the election, delegates, are often forgotten. Between unbound and re-allocated delegates from withdrawn campaigns, the fate of the 2016 race could lay in the hands of a few dozen people. Add in the various delegate selection methods of states that may favor one candidate and you have a massive opportunity for the remaining campaigns.
Given the stakes of capturing as many of these free-agent delegates as possible, some campaigns have complex operations in place (Cruz and Kasich) while others seem to be completely unaware of the process (Trump). This can best be displayed in Louisiana. Having won the state primary by just 3% over Cruz, Trump and Cruz each had 18 delegates with 5 to Rubio and 5 uncommitted. Since that primary, the state GOP has formed committees which heavily favor Cruz due to his campaign’s groundwork in the state. These committees look likely to make rules that send the 5 Rubio and 5 uncommitted delegates Cruz’s way. One would think that the winner of a state would gain the most delegates, but Cruz looks poised to gain 10 more delegates than Trump. This is a true testament to the need for a ground game.
Although one of the best instances, Louisiana is far from being the only state who has rules in favor of one candidate. South Dakota recently announced its slate of delegates to the GOP convention. While these delegates will be bound to the winner of the state’s winner-take-all primary, many have signaled support of Cruz. Should Trump win South Dakota and the convention vote goes to a second round, a majority of the delegation can be expected to flip to Cruz. Even in Trump’s home state of New York for which he is favored to win the primary, the state party is deciding delegates, not the campaigns. This could lead to many delegates (coming from the state with the 4th highest delegate count) switching from Trump to another candidate on a second vote at the convention.
Delegate math remains the single most important part of the Republican primaries, despite the constant attention to polls. Some may not agree with the process and think the delegates are being stolen, but it comes down to the established state rules and campaign organization on the ground. As the race pushes into April, more uncommitted delegates are expected to announce their support, giving us a clearer picture of the race.