Figuring out the presidential delegate selection system is a tough game: first prize can be an office in the West Wing of the White House. For those confused by caucuses and primaries, here is a road map to the next two weeks' contests. Over the next 11 days, six states will vote in contests dubbed the Lesser Antilles. Paul Simon and Jack Kemp are trying to win a ticket there to the 20 Democratic or 15 Republican Super Tuesday contests March 8, where one-third of each party's delegates will be chosen. The candidates who already have tickets will be trying to get better seats. Begin with the Lesser Antilles:
The Snowy Plains: Today's South Dakota primary technically doesn't count for the Democrats. The main competitors seem to be Dick Gephardt, the winner in next-door Iowa and the choice of Sen. Tom Daschle, and Michael Dukakis; Simon has been flagging. Iowa winner Bob Dole (who said he came to Mount Rushmore "for a fitting") is attacking George Bush for pulling out of this farm state. In Minnesota's caucuses tonight Kemp and Pat Robertson are competing in a Republican Party full of right-to-lifers, and Bob Dole is counting on his Farm Belt fame. Dukakis has spent liberally to win this liberal state's Democratic caucuses, but Simon has been summoning the memory of Hubert Humphrey to jump-start his campaign, and Jesse Jackson would like to make this his biggest pre-Super Tuesday splash. The Democrats' rules ban the state party from reporting results until March 8, but they've found a way around it, and you'll get the news around 11 p.m. tonight. In Wyoming both parties hold county conventions March 5. The Republican delegates chosen in precinct caucuses mostly favor Dole and Bush. Democrats allow any registered Democrat to vote, and Albert Gore thinks this is the one pre-Super Tuesday state he might do well in. Dukakis and Gephardt think they will do better. It may provide a preview of Super Tuesday's Nevada, Idaho, Hawaii and American Samoa Democratic caucuses.
New England: Robertson could give Kennebunkport summer resident George Bush trouble in Maine's caucuses concluding Feb. 28. New Englander Dukakis is in good shape here. Vermont's nonbinding primary March 1 is generally conceded to New Hampshire winners Bush and Dukakis.
South Carolina: Republicans here vote in what could be a critical primary Saturday, March 5, just three days before Super Tuesday. This contest was contrived by Bush manager Lee Atwater, but Robertson has targeted it and says he must win. His ability to turn out evangelicals could win for him in this Iowa-sized state, where the last Republican primary attracted not many more voters than Iowa's caucuses. Kemp maintains he's competing here; Dole has been in and out.
Like Iowa and New Hampshire, the Lesser Antilles contests are fought on small battlefields. Super Tuesday is something else. Candidates must deliver their messages in 97 media markets and 167 congressional districts. Not all are in the South. More than one-third of the Super Tuesday delegates are chosen in states that were not part of the Confederacy. Super Tuesday contests can be divided into four groups, each electing about one-fourth of the delegates to be chosen that day.
The Metropolitan North: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland and Missouri hold primaries; Washington state has caucuses. Dukakis and Bush are the favorites in New England; Dukakis hopes to win liberal-minded Washington Democrats, but the mostly right-wing Washington Republicans put that contest up for grabs. Dukakis has high hopes for Maryland, but Gephardt is a cinch in his home state of Missouri. These could be tough Dole-Bush battlegrounds.
The Coastal South: The economically booming states of Virginia (which has a caucus), North Carolina, Georgia and Florida could provide some fertile ground for the winners in booming New Hampshire. Bush hopes to do well here, but Dole has been working his wife Elizabeth's home state of North Carolina. Dukakis is targeting booming metropolitan districts, Jackson hopes black voters will net him lots of delegates, Gephardt is targeting rural districts, and Gore hopes to win almost everywhere.
The Mississippi Valley: Some states in the economically ailing interior South provide good targets for the Iowa winners -- Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas for Dole; Kentucky, Arkansas and the white districts of Alabama and Mississippi for Gephardt. Black voters will probably carry Alabama and Mississippi and maybe other states for Jackson. Gore hopes his strength will fan out from his native Tennessee, and Bush is conceding nothing.
The Oil Patch: Bush has a big lead in his home state of Texas, smaller leads in Louisiana and Oklahoma. Gephardt, who took flak up north for his oil import fee, had a nifty lead in a post-Iowa Texas poll and hopes to clean up here. But Gore got a pop from the Dallas debate and has the money for media. Dukakis is targeting the cities and Hispanic south Texas.
With all the pinpoint targeting, and with proportional representation in most states, Super Tuesday shouldn't produce any clear winners and may produce no clear losers. The nominations may be determined not by the one-third of the delegates chosen March 8, as the southern Democratic legislators who created Super Tuesday hoped, but by the one-third elected in the half-dozen big states that vote later.
The writer is a member of the editorial page staff.