As April begins to turn into May, delegate counts become key. This site has typically used the count at www.thegreenpapers.com as a good count — mostly because the Green Papers shows its work — exactly how it calculates the delegate counts. Actually, the Green Papers has four separate counts. What those different counts mean for the next two months is the main focus of this post. To explain the terminology that the Green Papers uses, the Green Papers distinguishes between hard counts and soft counts. The hard count is the actual number of delegates actually won to date. The soft count has three components — the soft pledged count, the soft unpledged count, and the soft total. These components have slightly different meanings for the two parties given the difference in the rules of the two parties. This post looks in a general sense at what these counts mean — primarily looking at the delegates from the states that have already voted — for the Republicans.
For the Republican Party, because delegates are bound by either the initial presidential preference vote or the delegate’s pledge when they ran for delegate (in certain caucus states, Illinois, and West Virginia), the hard count and the soft pledged count is, for the most part, the same for all of the candidates and differs only for uncommitted. Soft unpledged (for the most part) represents officially uncommitted delegates who have announced their non-binding support for a candidate. Additionally, for Colorado and Wyoming, the Green Papers treats the automatic delegates as “available” but for American Samoa, Guam, North Dakota, and the Virgin Islands, the Green Papers treat these delegates as uncommitted. The actual status appears to be the same for both sets of automatic delegates — because there was no preference vote, these delegates are not bound to support any of the candidates.
For the Republican Party, all that truly matters for now is the hard count. Including the automatic delegates from Colorado and Wyoming and the 54 district-level delegates from Pennsylvania, there will be 124 unbound delegates available on June 8 (128 if the original delegation from the Virgin Islands is seated by the Convention). Of those 124 delegates, 18 will be the party leaders (party chair and RNC members) from the three states and three territories that did not hold a preference vote. The other 106 or 110 will be the individual elected as uncommitted delegates in Colorado (4), American Samoa (6), Guam (6), North Dakota (25), Virgin Islands (2 or 6), Wyoming (1), Louisiana (5), Oklahoma (3), and Pennsylvania (54). In addition to the uncommitted delegates, there are the delegates won by the other candidates. As discussed last month, as best as can be determined, sixty-nine of these delegates are effectively unbound and another 44 could be released by the candidate to whom they are bound. Presumably Ben Carson will release his nine delegates, but the other 35 might be kept bound if the remaining candidates are firmly opposed to Trump. (Given the binding rules, it is hard to see how any candidate other than Trump could win on the first ballot. If it gets to the second ballot, everything is up in the air.) The key for unbound delegates is that tentative pledges by these delegates (including guesses as to which way these delegates are believed to be leaning) are not binding or set in stone. Depending upon how the rest of the campaign goes, they are free to change their mind.
Right now, the hard count has Trump at 846, 391 delegates short of 1,237. There are 620 pledged delegates left to be allocated. Of that 620, 303 will be allocated on June 7. In short, Trump can’t wrap up the nomination before June 7 unless he got a wave of endorsements from uncommitted delegates. With 237 nominally uncommitted/unbound delegates, Trump doesn’t need to win many delegates to be in reaching distance of the nomination, but he probably needs to get very close before he will be able to persuade the delegates to break in his direction, especially given that most of these uncommitted delegates will not be automatic delegates. Whether “close enough” is 1,100 or 1,200 is difficult to tell, but anything short of 1,100 is probably too many delegates to gain given the small number of available delegates.
The other part of the Republican end game is the actual human beings serving as delegates. While every state has different rules regarding how long each delegate is bound by the state results, most of these delegates will become unbound at some point. Who is sitting in these seats matters. (Almost all of the uncommitted delegates have already been selected, but some of those who could be released from former candidates are still to be chosen). The three current candidates represent very different views of the Republican Party. A delegate who shares a given candidate’s views of the core principles of the Republican Party is more likely to support that candidate on later ballots. While some states have already selected the actual delegates, many states are still selecting delegates.
The remaining calendar is as follows (by state): Alaska (April 28 — state convention); Arkansas (April 30 — district conventions; May 14-state convention); Arizona (April 30 — state convention including district delegate selection); Delaware (April 29-30 — state convention); Florida — rolling dates for district conventions with 2 still to come followed by state committee meeting); Georgia (June 4 — state convention for at-large delegates); Iowa (May 28 — state convention for at-large delegates); Idaho (June 4 — state convention); Illinois (May 22 — state convention for at-large delegates); Kansas (May 14 — state convention for at-large delegates); Kentucky (rolling congressional district conventions followed by state convention but website does not indicate dates); Massachusetts (April 30 — congressional district conventions, May 25 — state committee meeting); Maryland (May 14 — spring convention to select at-large delegates); Minnesota (rolling district conventions, May 21 — state convention); Missouri (April 30 — congressional district convention, May 21 — state convention); Mississippi (May 14 –state convention); Montana (May 14 — state convention, primary on June 7); North Carolina (rolling dates for district conventions with two still to come, May 8 — state convention for at-large delegates); Nebraska (May 14 — state convention, primary on May 10); New Mexico (May 21– state convention, primary on June 7); Nevada (May 15 — state convention); New York (May — state committee meeting for at-large delegates); Oklahoma (May 14 — state convention for at-large delegates); Oregon (June 4 — state convention with district meetings, primary on May 17); Pennsylvania (May 21 — state committee meeting for at-large delegates); South Carolina (May 7 — state convention for at-large delegates); Texas (May 14 — state convention with district meetings); Virginia (rolling dates for district conventions with most in May, April 30 — state convention for at-large delegates); Vermont (May 21 — state convention); Washington (May 21 — state convention, primary on May 24); and Wisconsin (May 14 — state convention for at-large delegates). As the above list shows, a significant portion of actual delegates are still to be chosen. Each of these states have different rules on candidate input, but ultimately leaves the final decision with a convention or committee. In fact, some of the states select their delegates before the primary — including Montana and New Mexico above and Indiana which has already selected its delegates even though the primary is not until May — and some select the delegates after the primary but before the results can be certified (Nebraska).
In particular, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Texas will be selecting actual uncommitted delegates or delegates who could be released by their candidates. Particularly for Trump, getting pro-Trump delegates to fill the slots allocated to uncommitted or to withdrawn delegates would reduce the numbers that Trump needs to win in the states yet to vote. On the other hand, if these slots go to pro-Cruz delegates, Trump will need to get closer to 1,237 in terms of pledged delegates to have a shot at getting enough votes on the first ballot.
The bottom line is that “binding” matters but people matter to. After Tuesday, there will be over 110 people elected to fill uncommitted slots. Over the course of May, people will be elected to fill the remaining slots allocated to withdrawn candidates. Who these people are will determine how many pledged delegates it will actually take to wrap up the Republican nomination. Trump has a narrow window to get to 1,237 pledged delegates. Getting to 1,237 is possible, but it would only take a relatively minor stumble in a handful of states to leave Trump short of that number. As the convention approaches, those delegates who are not legally bound will have to balance their personal preferences against their perception of the popular will and their belief as to the best interests of the party. They will be free to change their minds up until they actually vote at the convention. How these delegates resolve these factors and whether they announce early (potentially influencing other unbound delegates) or keep their preferences secret until the actual roll call may determine with Donald Trump is the Republican nominee or whether there will be a second ballot.