Caucus and bull story | Bleader

Monday, January 23, 2012

Caucus and bull story

Posted By on 01.23.12 at 09:00 AM

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Sunday headline on the Tribune website: "For Mitt Romney, two losses in one day."

One was the South Carolina primary. But to make matters even worse, said the Tribune, "the Iowa Republican Party, after saying just days ago that the Jan. 3 caucuses were inconclusive, issued a statement overnight declaring that Rick Santorum had, indeed, won. Romney had initially held an eight-vote lead, but certified totals released Thursday put Santorum ahead by nearly three dozen votes."

And in the Sunday Sun-Times: "Santorum, in a belated decision announced Saturday, beat Romney in Iowa after all."

A new "winner." A new "loser." A dramatic reversal. You can't beat it for excitement.

Last Thursday night the Iowa Republican Party reported that Santorum, overall, had received 34 more "certified" votes than Romney in the caucuses. A Sun-Times story Friday said "Romney had been stripped of his Iowa caucus victory." Santorum called himself the "clear victor."

And Friday night the browbeaten Iowa GOP chairman, Matt Strawn, who a day before had congratulated both Romney and Santorum and called neither the winner, released a terse statement that said Santorum was.

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Of course, this statement did allow Iowa to elbow its way into the Sunday papers alongside South Carolina.

But Strawn had it right the first time. He was aware of pertinent details—such as the spoils of victory and the cost of defeat (not to mention the fact that eight precincts never did turn in certified results, making the final margin between Romney and Santorum meaningless)—that it would have been inconvenient for the papers to report. Almost all the drama would have drained out of the story.

The media love Iowa because it's the first straw-in-the-wind each primary season and because its caucuses are so gosh-darned grass roots. But the caucuses don't easily lend themselves to snappy declarations of "winners" and "losers." The Republican caucuses (the Democrats do it a little differently) determine the loyalties of the delegates to the county conventions, which choose the delegates to the congressional-district conventions, which determine the delegates to the state convention in June, which is when the delegation to the national party convention will be decided. Iowa will send 25 delegates to the Republican convention chosen through this elaborate process—plus three unpledged party leaders who won't be—and they won't have to vote as a bloc.

What the papers didn't get around to telling us was what the stunning reversal in Iowa, Romney being "stripped" of victory and all that, actually means to the hunt for delegates. And the answer is, virtually nothing. Needing 1,144 delegate votes to be nominated at this year's national GOP convention in Tampa, Romney could wind up losing one or two.

Or not even that. In 2008 John McCain finished a distant fourth in the Republican caucuses. But by the time of the Republican convention it was clear he'd be the nominee, and the Iowa delegation gave McCain every one of its votes.

Getting into these details would not only undercut the latest headlines from Iowa, it could lead to questions about why the Iowa caucuses were treated as such big news in the first place. It could turn the Iowa caucuses into a story analogous to a movie that ends with a sensational switcheroo, and the effect of the switcheroo is to make the audience realize the plot didn't make any sense in the first place.

So let's report only the dramatic turnaround and none of its inconsequential real-world effects. Let those sleeping dogs lie.

And on to Florida, where 50 delegates are at stake and it's winner take all. The winner there will actually win something.

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