Note: this is the second of two related posts on the state of the 2012 Republican presidential contest. Part 1 was posted yesterday morning.
TACOMA — The Republican presidential nomination is not over yet, Rick Santorum says. Part of his campaign’s argument is that delegates in caucus states will be allocated to him in greater numbers than the popular votes were on caucus day.
The Pierce County Republican Party convention on Saturday is one place to test Santorum’s view.
The results suggest Santorum might be right.
On March 3, Mitt Romney handily won Washington state’s presidential straw poll at the GOP caucuses, garnering 38% of the statewide caucus vote to 25% for Ron Paul and 24% for Santorum. In Pierce County specifically, Romney won 38% of the vote, Santorum won 26% and Paul received 23%.
That was the popular straw vote on caucus day. In Washington, as in many other caucus states, the official process of appropriating delegates to candidates begins at the precinct caucuses — but is entirely separate from the straw vote — and then moves to the county, and finally to the state level.
In Pierce County on Saturday, the county delegates elected at the precinct-level met for a long day of packed politicking at Tacoma’s convention center, where the state convention will be held in late May and early June. Patricia O’Halloran, a Tacoma doctor and Paul supporter, says she was at the convention from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., but said she knows of delegates who arrived as early as 7 a.m.
“The line to get in and get credentialed was out the door and a couple blocks long at one point apparently — unheard of,” she said. O’Halloran added that she has been to the caucuses and then to the county conventions several times before, and to the state convention twice.
In the 27th state legislative district, where she lives, she said that there were so many motivated people that “there was considerable discord surrounding various slates put together by supporters of one presidential candidate [over] another,” with lots of debate over how to assemble “mixed” slates of delegates representing more than one candidate.
Ultimately, Pierce County Republicans assigned 60 delegates for Romney, 60 for Santorum, and 45 for Paul. Meaning Santorum gained considerable ground on Romney, relative to the popular straw vote.
O’Halloran wasn’t happy with some parts of the process, but said that what matters more to her than delegate counts is fielding a successful nominee come the fall.
“The very high number of participants … was driven by the intense dissatisfaction of so many with the increasing government control seen under President Obama,” she said.