BY RICHARD L. FRICKER
Contrary to what many pundits, soothsayers, observers and conjurers opined, the South Carolina, Florida and Nevada primaries have settled nothing. Those outings account for only 121 of 2,286 convention delegates with 49 primaries and caucuses remaining. Party rules require 1,144 delegates to win the nomination.
Newt Gingrich, after being dunked in a 55-gallon drum of Florida whoop-ass, declared there were 46 more contests remaining. Gingrich, and whoever contracted to make his signs, forgot the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. These fellow Americans account for 60 delegates, delegates Gingrich might need someday soon.
Mitt Romney’s Nevada win does not mean his campaign has a clear run into the Tampa convention. There is a lot more play left in the GOP nomination process. Romney, thought to be the nominee apparent, has yet to nominated.
The Gingrich campaign team seems to have adopted the Zen of that icon philosopher from a different “hill,” Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
If Gingrich is to be believed, there are members of Congress who might have talking points on that concept; the nomination process will run well into the summer. Much will depend on financing, physical stamina and the ability to keep foot and mouth at opposite ends of the candidate corpus.
While Newt and Mitt, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul entertain America with the worst political drama in post war [that’s World War II – there have been so many of late) history, there is also political opportunity. The opportunity is, if the money holds out and neither candidate implodes, states previously never part of the action might actually become important.
A good example would be red-state Oklahoma’s Super Tuesday primary. In 2008 candidate Barack Obama failed to carry even one county in a state that was once known as progressive.
In 2010 the red machine, fueled by the Tea Bag faithful and what has become known as the Evangelical Taliban, took every elected office. The Legislature became dominated by religious certitude and wild-eyed conservatism that even divided the Republican leadership.
Now, as Newt rolls and Mitt spends, Rick opines and Ron does whatever it is Ron does, Oklahoma could well be a Super Tuesday spoiler for someone. Oklahoma as a proportional primary, meaning delegates are allocated by an overall state win as well as wins in the congressional districts.
Oklahoma has 43. Gingrich appears to be the favorite, for the moment. This is important because the Virginia primary is also on Super Tuesday.
Gingrich is not on the Virginia ballot. Virginia will offer up 49 delegates on the GOP nomination altar. Oklahoma is Gingrich’s chance to offset the Virginia deficit.
Between Nevada and Super Tuesday there are six contests with 182 delegates to be harvested. During the ensuing weeks Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, Michigan and Washington will designate delegates.
Of the Super Tuesday states that actually have elections rather than non-binding caucuses Gingrich is expected to take Georgia and Oklahoma for a total of 199 delegates. Romney, according to the polls, is expected to take Virginia, Massachusetts, and Vermont for a total 107 delegates.
Not be discounted is this entire primary circus is Santorum who, again according to the polls, expected to take Minnesota’s 40 delegates. Minnesota will be the first big Romney stumbling block and a chance for Gingrich to catch his campaign breath.
According to polling gurus Ohio, with 66 delegates, is too close to call. Ohio is a proportional allocation so candidates could break even or it could be a lopsided win for either.
The other Super Tuesday wild card is Tennessee with 58 delegates. Tennessee is also a proportional primary and considered very conservative which would bode well for Gingrich, or maybe even Santorum who can get votes in conservative states.
Without Ohio and Tennessee Romney ends the day with 244 elected delegates. Gingrich ends the day by closing with 26 elected delegates at 218, with much thanks to Oklahoma.
The caucus delegates remain to be seen, depending on the rules in each state.
Romney is certainly more organized that Gingrich. But, if the former speaker can convince people he is electable at the polls, he just might make it beyond March 6.
In previous years Oklahoma was a state candidates flew over, waved, picked up a check from the oil interests and moved on to visit the really important people. This year? Maybe not so much.
After Super Tuesday there are still 32 states that will select delegates. If Romney is short 1,144 going into Tampa and Gingrich holds on, Santorum pulls just enough delegates to be a spoiler and Paul garners only a few important delegates, the GOP may have a brokered convention on their hands.
The Republican nomination process is a game of numbers. This nominating game is a long way from over.
IF the numbers twist in the wind of a fickle electorate, IF there is a curve ball of events, IF someone stumbles, it could well be the actual nominee has yet to step on stage.
Pitchers and catchers begin reporting Feb. 11.
– Richard L. Fricker lives in Tulsa, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. His latest book, Martian Llama Racing Explained, is available at http://www.richardfricker.com.