Delegate Math: Haley Campaign Days Are Numbered
Delegate Math: Haley Campaign Days Are Numbered

By John Haughey

Regardless how many delegates, if any, Nikki Haley earns in Feb. 24’s South Carolina Republican primary, the former United Nations ambassador’s presidential campaign’s days are numbered.

As in 30 days or less, calculate a raft of delegate-counting analysts, such as FHQ Strategies founder and University of Georgia Political Science Professor Josh Putnam.

That is, unless Ms. Haley can outright win some contests, including several of the 15 ‘Super Tuesday’ GOP presidential preference preliminaries on March 5.

If she does not do so, Mr. Putnam said, her campaign will crash into a cold, hard iceberg of “delegate math,” making ‘Super Tuesday’ her “Titanic Tuesday.”

“Ready or not,” he told The Epoch Times, “here it comes.”

To win the Republican presidential nomination, a candidate must secure 1,215 of the 2,429 delegates at the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) July 15-18 nominating convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Thus far, 92 delegates have been awarded across four primaries/caucuses. Former President Donald Trump has 63 of those delegates, more than two-thirds. Ms. Haley has 17.

South Carolina’s Feb. 24 GOP primary with 50 delegates is the first of six state presidential preference polls that will collectively award 239 delegates—including Michigan’s 55 and Missouri’s 54—before ’Super Tuesday.’

By March 5, 10 primaries/caucuses, including the District of Columbia and Virgin Islands, will have awarded 331 GOP convention delegates.

On March 5, 15 primaries/caucuses, including in Texas and California, will award 1,215 GOP delegates—the exact number needed to win the nod.

This is why, of course, it is referred to as ’Super Tuesday’ and why, of course, Mr. Putnam says it could be “Titanic Tuesday” for Ms. Haley’s campaign unless she wins several and is competitive in all.

If polls, projections, and trends pan out, President Trump will likely have an insurmountable delegate lead after ’Super Tuesday,’ Mr. Putnam said, but because the RNC prohibits ‘winner-take-all’ primaries before March 15, the former president may not formally seal the deal for several weeks.

“I don’t have an exact estimate here, but mid-March, late-March” is when Ms. Haley is likely to acknowledge her campaign is moot, he said.

“Haley seems to suggest that she’s going to hang around at least through ‘Super Tuesday,’ so if she dropped out after that, then it’s going to probably happen just before Trump passes the 50-percent mark and unofficially clinches the nomination,” Mr. Putnam said.

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump greets his supporters at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in Greer, S.C., on Feb. 20, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)


Fortunately for the Haley campaign, the first 23 GOP primaries/caucuses, including the 15 on March 5, are all proportional to varied extents, meaning delegates are allocated by the percentage of the statewide and/or the congressional district vote a candidate garners.

The RNC’s prohibition on ‘winner-take-all’ primaries and on state parties imposing thresholds greater than 20 percent to quality for delegates before March 15 is why Mr. Trump’s four first-place finishes only earned him 63 instead of all 92 delegates and how Ms. Haley has 17 delegates despite not winning a race.

All that comes to an end beginning March 19 when ‘winner-take-all’ primaries dominate the state preliminaries that unfold between then and June 4. That is when New Jersey’s Republicans will vote in the only GOP presidential preference poll after Memorial Day, and the last one before the Republican National Convention five weeks later.

“After that point,” Mr. Putnam said, “a candidate can win 30 percent of the vote and win by one vote and still win all the delegates.”

On March 19, another 350 delegates are on the line across five primaries, including 125 in Florida’s ‘winner-take-all’ contest, with another 161 up for grabs in five April 2 preliminaries that all feature ‘winner-take-all’ triggers.

Mr. Putnam said “if things continue on the current trajectory,” it is “very likely that Mr. Trump is going to wrap things up” in that March 19–April 2 window.

That RNC ban on ‘winner-take-all’ primaries through March 15 is why Ms. Haley’s campaign could still limp along after March 5, he said, noting that in previous election cycles, it would all be over that day if not sooner because there were more “front-loaded” ‘winner-take-all’ primaries.

“There was no prohibition on ‘winner-take-all’ rules early in the calendar as there is in 2024,” Mr. Putnam said, although they’ve been discouraged since 2012.

He said most analysts aren’t paying as much attention to delegate counts as they are to actual vote counts because that is what drives donors to sustain a flagging campaign because once doubt sets in, the money stops, and the end comes quickly.

The delegate count “would be important if we were talking about a competitive nomination race here,” Mr. Putnam said. “We’re not.”

The Republican National Convention will unfold July 15-18 in Fiserv Forum, which hosted the 2020 Democratic National Convention, in Milwaukee, Wis. (Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)

‘Delegate Math’

Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution outlines the presidential election process but does not offer guidance on how states should select delegates for national nominating conventions. It is up to each state party to develop its own rules in coordination with their national parties.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has maintained a “top-down” approach in orchestrating a relatively uniform, streamlined system for awarding delegates among state parties for decades.

Among standard proportional rules all state Democrat parties follow is a 15-percent qualifying threshold for candidates to secure delegates and the automatic selection of party leaders and elected officials (PLEOs) as “superdelegates” to the national convention. PLEO “superdelegates” cannot exceed 15 percent of a state’s contingent or vote in the convention’s first ballot.

Thus far, President Joe Biden has all 91 of the delegates awarded in Democrat primaries. On March 5, Democrat voters in 16 states will cast ballots in preliminaries that will produce 1,420 delegates, which will likely lift him near or beyond the 1,968 needed to win the nomination when the party’s 3,934 delegates convene Aug. 19–22 in Chicago for the Democratic National Convention.

Republicans, on the other hand, do business from the “bottom up” with state committees and lawmakers employing variable methodologies to compile delegates from primaries and caucus results.

This creates “a patchwork” of complex fine print “delegate math” rules, Mr. Putnam said, which often have little to do with math or even—when inconvenient—rules.

Republicans’ “delegate math” is a variable, state-by-state science and art of the politically expedient and is to math what “inside baseball” is to hockey.

Never mind the myriad state-to-state meanders in defining bound and unbound delegates spelled out in the Republican National Committee’s ‘Rules of the Republican Party’ and ‘Call to the Convention.

But while it may be obtuse, it’s important, Mr. Putnam said.

“I think it’s easy to slip into the trap of thinking that you vote in a primary or caucus and somebody wins, but the underlying delegate selection process has a lot to do with who emerges as the nominee,” he said.

Then presidential candidate Donald Trump gets the party’s nomination at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. / AFP / Jim Watson (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Five Ways to Dish Up Delegates

There are essentially five ways Republican state parties allocate delegates, according to Frontloading HQ and The Green Papers.

Six states have strict proportional primaries where delegates are allocated based either on statewide primary/caucus votes or on a combination of statewide/congressional district votes.

The election cycle’s first three presidential preference polls—Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada—were all “proportional,” with President Trump’s 51 percent tally earning 20 of Iowa’s 40 delegates, 13 of New Hampshire’s 22, and all 26 in Nevada’s uncontested caucus.

Twenty-two states stage ‘proportional with a trigger’ primaries, meaning they become ‘winner-take-all’ if a candidate wins a majority (or more) of the vote statewide and/or at the congressional district level. The threshold in most states is 50.1 percent of the overall tally, with 66.7 percent—two-thirds—needed in Tennessee.

The first GOP ‘proportional with a trigger’ primary of the 2024 election cycle is on March 2 in Idaho, with most between then and Missouri’s May 4 primary allocating delegates using this method.

Twelve states stage ‘winner-take-all’ primaries/caucuses that award all delegates to the plurality winner. Unlike a proportional state with a ‘winner-take-all trigger,’ true ‘winner-take-all’ rules do not require a majority of the vote for a full allocation of delegates.

The first GOP ‘winner-take-all’ primaries of the 2024 election cycle will kick off on March 19 in Arizona, Florida, Kansas, and Ohio.

Republican parties in New Mexico, Montana, and South Dakota allocate their national convention delegates at their state conventions in May.

South Carolina is among eight states that have “hybrid,” ‘proportional,’ and ‘winner-take-all’ primaries. In the Palmetto State’s case, statewide delegates are awarded ‘winner take all’ while district delegates are doled out proportionally.

Of the 50 delegates at stake in the Feb. 24 primary, 21 are accorded—three each—to the state’s seven congressional districts. Ten are “at-large,” three for the state party, and 16 are “bonus” delegates, often elected officials in GOP-led congressional districts.

Under the state Republican party’s delegate rules, whoever wins the statewide tally, whether by a margin above 50 percent or not, wins all 29 of the non-district bound delegates. President Trump is expected to easily bank these 29 delegates.

Meanwhile, the remaining 21 delegates are divvied up proportionally by how they fared district-by-district, which is how Ms. Haley could win as many as six delegates.

“She might be able to win a district or two—the first district down in the Charleston area, maybe,” Mr. Putnam said.

“At most, we’re talking about Haley winning six delegates and, very likely, none in South Carolina come Saturday.”

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