If Rick Santorum’s victory last night proved anything, it’s that the Repubublican primary is anything but predictable. But just how big of a win was it? As mentioned previously, Missouri is considered a ‘beauty contest’, and a rather expensive one at that. It cost Missouri taxpayers $7,000,000 to hold a primary that didn’t have any delegates. Needless to say, many of the citizens of the Show-Me state were a little less enthusiastic about the contest as a result.
But why do something as silly as hold a primary that doesn’t count and then a caucus at a later date to award delegates? In reality, all three of the races last night were ‘non-binding’. That means that they don’t count. All of the delegates are to be awarded later and since they aren’t bound by any criteria they don’t have to cast their support for one candidate or the other. This gives them an out in the event the candidate that wins the primary eventually drops out and they can roll their support behind a remaining candidate (for example Santorum could be out of the race by the time March 17th rolls around).
So, technically speaking, Rick Santorum didn’t win much of anything last night except a symbolic victory since no delegates will be officially added to his side of the ledger until March.
This peculiar arrangement is a result of the changing rules set forth by the RNC and the recent spate of states breaking those rules. The RNC made the rules in an effort to randomize the voting and spread the contest out over a greater period so that voters in every state would have a chance to meet the candidates in preparation for the election in November. States like Florida hve been particularly egregious about breaking the RNC’s rules and jumping ahead in the primary. The penalty for doing so has been to cost them half of their delegates. It may also revoke thier winner-take-all status and distribute their delegates proportionally.
To avoid these penalties, Missouri tried a ‘Missouri compromise’ of sorts by moving their caucus date into compliance but their legislature failed to act quickly enough to move the primary back.
Does that mean this was a loss for Santorum? Absolutely not. It was, in fact, a stinging rebuke to Mitt Romney. Romney not only lost contests he wasn’t expected to lose, he lost them by significant margins. Now voter perception is that Santorum is an A-list player. He and Romney have three wins apiece. Indeed the biggest loser is Newt Gingrich, who also lost badly in these contests (and wasn’t even on the ballot in one race). Gingrich chose to spend his time in Ohio where he holds on to the lead in the polls.
All of this is indicative of the utter state of disarray that the Republican party is in. It’s arguable that Romney’s campaign did so badly because they got complacent. It’s also apparent that Gingrich was sloppy and careless in the beginning and that kept him off the ballots in Virginia and Missouri (infairness, Santorum made a clerical error that kept him off the ballot in Indiana).
What does this bode for the future? Most likely a prolonged race. But hopefully this was the last ‘Missouri compromise’.