SANDPOINT — Super Tuesday is upon us. With seven primaries, three caucuses, and 419 delegates at stake, the news media are rich with speculation. For the first time ever, the state of Idaho’s Republican Party gets to be part of the buzz.
Until this year, Idaho’s GOP determined its presidential and local nominee preferences with a primary in late May. At the presidential level, the 32 delegates chosen then attended the GOP National Convention with little allegiance to the candidates. Three quarters of the delegates were “soft pledged” (meaning they could change their minds) and the remaining 8 were simply “unpledged” — in other words, free agents.
The late season primary and the changeable delegates meant that Republican candidates rarely visited and few paid attention to the Gem State. Finally, the GOP got tired of being ignored and resolved to make its sizable number of delegates — more than Iowa, New Hampshire or Nevada — count in 2012.
So last October, they instituted a caucus system and moved the date way, way up to Super Tuesday — not an uncommon move for states who want more of an early say in the nomination process. So, on Tuesday, 44 counties will open their doors to first-time caucus goers at 7 p.m. In accordance with Idaho’s new voter identification law, only registered Republicans with valid ID can participate.
After that, it gets complicated.
Unlike Washington and other states, Idaho’s caucuses won’t be selecting delegates to attend a state convention. Instead, the counties will determine candidate preference through successive rounds of secret voting. After all the attendees cast their ballots, the caucus chairs will eliminate candidates with the least number of votes and those with less than 15 percent from the competition. The crowd then votes on the remaining contenders. So it goes until one candidate receives 50 percent of the vote. Or a simple majority will do if there’s only two fighters left in the ring. The winner captures all the delegates that county directly sends to the National Convention. There will be no state level convention to play middleman.
Here’s the kicker: If, after all counties have reported their caucus winners, the state GOP finds one candidate to have accumulated over 50 percent of the delegates from the county wins, proportionality goes out the window and that winner pockets all 32. That means Candidate A can win all the small counties but go home empty handed when Candidate B hauls in over 16 delegates from the population hubs.
Adding to the complexity is a puzzling plan for caucus venues. While most states provide their citizens with tens to hundreds of localized caucus sites, Idaho set up only 43 percent of its counties with multiple voting locations. The other 25 counties will have only one caucus site each. These aren’t just middle-of-nowhere places. They’re populous giants with thousands of potential caucus attendees, like Ada and Canyon counties, pared down to just one location each.
The result means all of Ada County’s 80,000+ registered Republican voters will have to fit in one place, the Taco Bell Arena in Boise. Sure, not everyone will attend a nomination caucus, but the basketball stadium only seats 12,380. Doors open at 4pm.
Game on, elbows out.
Though Idaho has fallen below the national radar, at least one candidate is giving Idaho some real love — Ron Paul. Armed with well-versed, impassioned supporters, Paul would never dismiss a caucus state. So he’s hit the ground here, and hard. The congressman has three meet and greets scheduled for today in Sandpoint, Moscow, and Idaho Falls. Then he’ll top off his southern traverse with Ada County events on Tuesday. Rumors say he’ll even pop into Taco Bell Arena.
While Paul banks on Idaho’s libertarian streak, Mitt Romney did visit Idaho Falls last week and has kept trumping up support by proxy. His son, Josh, bounced around the state early last week and Idaho Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter will reaffirm his Romney endorsement in Coeur D’Alene this evening. What Romney lacks in physical presence, he may make up with Idaho’s 27 percent Mormon population. Rick Santorum spent half a day in the state two weeks ago.
Super Tuesday may be a decisive step towards a singular Republican presidential front-runner. Whatever happens, UW Election Eye will be there to cover Idaho’s first time in the spotlight.