On Saturday, Rick Santorum is favored to win, albeit narrowly, in the Louisiana primary. But the actual delegate allocation from Louisiana could range from a wide Santorum win to, oddly enough, a significant victory for Ron Paul who barely is even bothering to campaign in the primary.
How could this be?
Well, here’s how it works: The primary will be determinative for only 20 of Louisiana’s 46 delegates. Those 20 will be allocated in accord with the proportion of the vote won by each presidential candidate — assuming that a candidate gets at least 25 percent of the vote. ANY votes for all candidates who do not cross that 25 percent threshold will be added together and their proportion of the whole will be allocated as UNCOMMITTED delegates. Three other officially uncommitted delegates will be the state’s members of the Republican National Committee.’
All other delegates, all 23 of them, will be chosen at a state convention not held until June 2. Moreover, the delegates to that state convention will not be chosen in any way, shape or form as a result of the primary this Saturday. Instead, they will be chosen at caucuses to be held throughout the state on April 28. So it is perfectly feasible, for instance, for Ron Paul to get less then 10% of the vote on Saturday, and thus to win not a single one of the 20 delegates chosen this week, but still to win the vast majority of the other 23 delegates on June 2.
Word on the ground is that Paul is extremely well organized for the caucuses. It might be that the only way to defeat him is for the Santorum and Gingrich organizations to join forces, at least in tactical alliances if not formally, at each of the caucuses.
But here’s the deal: If Santorum wins a narrow victory on Saturday and gains, say, 6 delegates to 5 each for Gingrich and Romney… but Gingrich later drops out and his Louisiana campaign organization folds into Santorum’s, then the caucus rules (which are too complicated to explain here) are such that Santorum could come close to sweeping the other 23 delegates on June 2. (Obviously, the same would be true if Gingrich and Romney joined forces, but that isn’t going to happen.)
This is another example of how Gingrich’s presence in the race directly hurts Santorum. Everybody has been calling Louisiana a “proportional allocation state,” giving the impression that even a Santorum popular vote win would not do much to bolster his overall national delegate position. But because slim majorities or even pluralities can have outsized influence in caucuses, the truth is that half of all the Louisiana delegates are very much up for grabs and could swing very strongly in one direction or another. Gingrich’s continued presence in the race could swing almost all of those 23 to Paul; his withdrawal from the race would swing them mostly to Santorum. And since Paul is thought, in the long run, to be in far more friendly to Romney, those delegates in the end would probably be likely to move Romney’s way in a contested convention.
It’s all highly convoluted. But the arithmetic is undeniable: Gingrich’s presence hurts Santorum. This is not to say whether this is a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just a straight analysis of how the rules combined with the arithmetic combined with the situation on the ground are likely to play out.