Florida primary’s winner-take-all delegate situation, explained

at 02:09 PM ET, 01/31/2012

There is a good bit of confusion about how Florida will award its delegates following today’s primary.

So, to clear things up, here’s where we stand:

A new Republican National Committee rule says that no state holding its presidential contest before April is allowed to award its delegates to the national convention on a winner-take-all basis, unless it is one of the four early carve-out states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada).

Many states see the winner-take-all as being preferable to a proportional format, because it provides for bigger swings in the delegate race and makes their states more important. Thus, the RNC created the new rule to make it less appealing for states to move their contests earlier in the year.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, left, and former RNC chairman Michael Steele debate during the party’s chairman’s race in 2010. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

But here’s the catch: Florida is already in violation of RNC rules because it moved its primary into January. And the RNC, which has already docked Florida half of its delegates for moving its primary up, says it cannot punish a state twice.

Therefore, the states that are already in violation of RNC rules for setting their primaries too early (Florida, Arizona and Michigan) were allowed to go winner-take-all.

Arizona, whose primary will be held Feb. 28, is going with a pure winner-take-all format just like Florida. It will award 29 delegates to the statewide winner — less than Florida’s 50, but still significant. Michigan, which is also set for Feb. 28, has a more proportional system.

(For more on delegate allocation rules and everything else you need to know, check out The Post’s great delegate tracker.)

Now, it’s important to note that not everyone agrees with the RNC’s position in this matter. Some members of the RNC have suggested they may challenge Florida’s winner-take-all status at the party’s August convention in ... wait for it ... Florida! The Tampa Bay Times’s Adam C. Smith had a good take on this controversy recently.

This is why, when former RNC chairman Michael Steele said on MSNBC today that Florida was not a winner-take-all state, eyebrows were raised.

“Florida’s proportional,” said Steele, who opposes Florida’s winner-take-all status. “Florida violated the April 1st rule of the RNC, Rule 15, and their delegates, whatever number’s apportioned to them, will be proportional for the candidates.”

Alas, the RNC says it’s not true, and Florida remains winner-take-all, at least until this situation can be hammered out at the convention.

RNC spokesman Sean Spicer tweeted today that any concerns about Florida’s delegate allocation method would have to be taken up with the contest committee just prior to the August convention.

Of course, unless the nominee is unclear at that point — a remote possibility — this will be a rather moot point.

But given that the rules for the 2016 primary calendar will be on the docket, there could be handful of RNC members anxious to make an example of Florida and try to ward off such future power moves.

Indeed, at the end of the day, by moving its primary up and going winner-take-all, Florida has made itself into one of the most pivotal states in the presidential race. Even though it forfeited half its delegates, it is still more critical to the delegate race than basically any other state before April.

And that’s a pretty sweet reward for breaking the rules.

 
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