GOP Candidates Hunt for Delegates Before Voting Begins

It’s too soon to tell how big a role Texas will play in the 2012 Republican presidential sweepstakes, but former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Lake Jackson are treating the upcoming primaries and caucuses as if their political lives depend on it.

The two hopefuls are feverishly working to stack the state convention in June with their supporters, a move that could help increase their influence should the nomination be unresolved by the time the party’s national convention rolls around in late August.

Usually the delegate selection process starts on the night of the primary, when highly motivated voters hang around to get a shot at being selected to go to state and national conventions. But because of the state’s delayed primaries, the delegate selection process has already begun for both of the major parties.

GOP delegate selection conventions, from the precinct level to counties and Senate districts, are being held across the state, most of them on April 14 and April 21, officials say. The delegates chosen there will go to the state GOP convention in Fort Worth in early June. Republican delegates in Texas are to be awarded to candidates proportionately based on the percentage the candidates get in the May 29 primary — but there are some wrinkles that could allow delegates to switch their allegiance.

“The Ron Paul campaign is very engaged, inquiring how the process works, organizing turnout,” said GOP chairman Steve Munisteri. “I see the Santorum people putting together a very active team, and they are working on getting people to turn out to the conventions.”

Munisteri said he hadn’t seen much delegate-recruiting activity from the campaigns of front-runner Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker.

“No sign of them whatsoever,” Munisteri said.

But Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said the former Massachusetts governor, who was in Texas last week to raise money and snag the endorsement of former President George H.W. Bush, is organized in the Lone Star State and preparing for the May 29 primary. The campaign also expects to roll out more high-profile Texas endorsements in coming days.

There are multiple ways that presidential candidates can gain delegates even if they don’t win them outright on election day.

There are three GOP “superdelegates” — Munisteri and two other top party officials, who can back any candidate at the national convention. Inactive candidates whose names remain on the ballots, like Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman, could also be awarded a handful of delegates.

Then there is the “uncommitted” selection that GOP voters can make on the May 29 ballot, and delegates representing the “uncommitted” vote at the convention in Tampa this fall can vote for anyone they want.

Potentially more significant is a new rule, adopted at an emergency Feb. 29 GOP meeting in Austin, that frees delegates from any commitment on a second ballot vote at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. That means that if no candidate sews up the nomination before the convention and there’s a dispute over the nominee, the Texas delegates can pick the candidate of their choice after the first round of voting.

So the loyalty of the delegates themselves matters a lot if there’s a brokered convention. Although Romney’s winning streak makes that an increasingly unlikely scenario, supporters of Paul and Santorum are trying to make sure they get as many of their people to show up at the upcoming caucus meetings.

“The bottom line is that Ron Paul needs delegates if Tampa results in a brokered convention, and Texas will be sending 155,” reads a recent posting on a campaign affiliate site, the Daily Paul. (Texas is sending the second-highest total of delegates to Tampa.) “A new rule was passed that unbound Texas delegates after the first ballot!!! This is a huge thing for us Ron Paul people,” the post said.

None of it may matter in the end. Before Tuesday night’s contests, Romney was about halfway to the magic number of delegates — 1,144 — required to seal the nomination, according to ABC News. But Santorum is counting on a big win in his home state of Pennsylvania on April 24, and later in states like Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas, in late May.

With President Obama assured the Democratic Party’s nomination, there is little drama in Texas’ Democratic presidential primary. But, like their GOP counterparts, the Democrats are scrambling to select thousands of delegates ahead of their June convention in Houston before voters even go to the polls.

County and Senate district conventions are to be held on April 21.

Bill Brannon, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said cancellation of the primary night precinct conventions makes it more difficult to get the word out to activists who might want to become delegates. On the other hand, it allows them to enter the process at a “loftier level” — bypassing the precinct conventions and potentially making it quicker and easier to become a delegate, he said.

Both parties are urging people who want to become delegates to consult their websites or contact them via email. Here’s how:

Texas Republican Party: Visit its website at www.texasgop.org or email [email protected].

Texas Democratic Party: Visit its website at www.txdemocrats.org email [email protected].

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