System Worries Clinton Backers

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 18, 2008

Supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton are worried that convoluted delegate rules in Texas could water down the impact of strong support for her among Hispanic voters there, creating a new obstacle for her in the must-win presidential primary contest.

Several top Clinton strategists and fundraisers became alarmed after learning of the state's unusual provisions during a closed-door strategy meeting this month, according to one person who attended.

What Clinton aides discovered is that in certain targeted districts, such as Democratic state Sen. Juan Hinojosa's heavily Hispanic Senate district in the Rio Grande Valley, Clinton could win an overwhelming majority of votes but gain only a small edge in delegates. At the same time, a win in the more urban districts in Dallas and Houston -- where Sen. Barack Obama expects to receive significant support -- could yield three or four times as many delegates.

"What it means is, she could win the popular vote and still lose the race for delegates," Hinojosa said yesterday. "This system does not necessarily represent the opinions of the population, and that is a serious problem."

The disparity in delegate distribution is just one of the unusual aspects of Texas's complex system for apportioning delegates. The scheme has been in use for two decades but is coming under increased scrutiny because the March 4 presidential contest is the first in years that gives the state a potentially decisive voice in choosing the party's nominee.

Under rules described in the 37-page Texas delegate selection plan, two-thirds of the state's 228 delegates will be chosen based on the vote in each of 31 state Senate districts. The remaining delegates will be chosen based in part on the outcome of caucuses held on election night after the polls close.

[View the full Texas delegate selection plan. (PDF)]

Texas Democratic Party officials said there is a good reason that some senatorial districts yield two or three delegates while others yield seven or, in one Austin district, eight. The numbers are determined by a formula that is based on the number of voters in each district who cast ballots for Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) in the 2004 presidential campaign and for Chris Bell, the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006.

The higher the turnout in each district in those years, the more delegates the district will get to select this year, explained Boyd Richie, the state party chairman.

"It's not that anyone's trying to penalize anyone," Richie said. "That's the last thing I want to do. What I want to do is encourage people to come back and vote. We want to have everybody participate."

But Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a Clinton supporter who represents the heavily Hispanic southern tip of Texas, said the party's formula fails to account for areas where general-election turnout may have been low but turnout for competitive primaries was much higher.

He said his district, which will yield three delegates on March 4, fits that description. Sen. Mario V. Gallegos Jr., another Clinton supporter whose largely Hispanic district will yield just three delegates, says his follows that pattern as well.

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