Listening to the radio and watching network coverage of the Iowa Caucus, you would think that the winner tonight has a lock on the Republican nomination and will be sharpening his (or her) fangs to go after Obama in November.
So just what is Iowa really worth?
Well, the truth is, if you were to win 100% of the delegates Iowa is allocated, you would manage to reel in just over 1% of the total delegates available.
There are a total of 2,286 and you need to make it to 1,144 to get to the 50% + 1 mark.
In fact, if a candidate were to win 100% of the delegates in the first 4 contests, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida you would manage only 115 total delegates. Now, 115 may well put you well on your way to the 50% plus 1, but winning all of the delegates in all 4 of these states will only put you at 5% of the total available delegates.
But the problem is, all of these early primaries are required to split the delegates between the winners. So if the current polls hold true, Romney, Paul and Santorum will get less than one third of delegates in Iowa after giving a few to the rest of the field that picks up a delegate or two. So instead of 28 delegates, the winner can expect maybe 8, give or take.
And the results of the Iowa contest are not binding. The Iowa Republicans will hold Conventions in a few months to actually pick the winners of the 28 delegates. So, in reality, today’s contest is essentially another straw poll with no delegates actually “bound” to a candidate.
But you wouldn’t know that by listening to the media.
And after fighting over the 28 delegates in Iowa, the Republican Circus moves on to New Hampshire where a whopping dozen delegates await the lucky winners. Yes, winners. Proportional allotments, remember? And Mitt Romney will pick up a few here, as will one or two others. Then it’s off to South Carolina where they normally have 50 delegates to offer up, but because they jumped the gun and held their contest too early, they have to suffer a 50% penalty. So only 25 delegates will be available to split between the candidates who show well enough to earn a share.
The comes the largest state so far, Florida. The Sunshine State normally boasts a sizable allotment of 99 delegates, but the premature election also cost the state 50% of their delegates leaving them with only 50.
So how does a poor candidate play catch up if they fall behind?
Well, Texas has 155 delegates up for grabs in April and California has 172 looming in June.
So the only significance to these early caucuses and primaries is the momentum derived from the media hype. With fewer and fewer states using a “winner take all” format, this is most likely going to be a long process. Longer than normal, in fact. So the statistics tossed around by the media playing up the significance of a win in Iowa combined with a win in South Carolina or the ones that start with “no candidate has ever …” are all meaningless this year. Between forced proportional allocation, penalties and non-binding contests, one can only hope that at some point the Republicans will turn their attention to the task at hand – getting Barack Obama out of the White House.