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News: Updated Jan. 24

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News from the Votemaster

Several people have mentioned that I used the term "brokered convention" and they didn't know what that meant. They may find out this year. Here's the scoop. Both the Democratic and Republican parties work as follows. There are state parties in all states that do the actual work of organizing campaigns in their states. Each state party has a Website and a staff and officers and so on. Here is a list of the state party Websites. If you want to volunteer, donate, etc. for your state party, all the information is there.

Each state has roughly half a dozen seats on the DNC (Democratic National Committee) or the RNC (Republican National Committee), respectively. These committees make the rules for their party, raise funds, etc. In 2007, they asked all the states how they wanted to choose their delegates to the national collections. In response, each state committee drew up a DSP (Delegate Selection Plan). States were pretty much free to make any plan they wanted. The DNC/RNC then approved the plan or sent it back for revision. Some states decided on a winner-take-all primary, some wanted a primary with the delegates divided in proportion to the popular vote, some wanted a caucus, and so on. Democrats Abroad (which focuses on the 7 million Americans living outside the U.S.) is treated like a state (and is subject to the McCain-Feingold rules) decided to have an Internet primary, a first, to maximize participation. (Republicans Abroad is not formally part of the Republican party and has no delegates at the Minnesota convention (but is also not subject to the strict McCain-Feingold campaign finance rules).

Virtually all states included some PLEOs (Party Leaders and Elected Officials) in their DSP so that state party officers, governors, members of Congress, etc, could go to the convention (for the Democrats, in Denver, Aug. 15-28; for the Republicans, in St. Paul, Sept. 1-4).In many cases, the PLEO slots are also competitive since a state might have a few dozen county chairmen all of whom want to go (but they are also free to support a candidate and run for ordinary delegate (as an Obama delegate or a Romney delegate or whatever). Basically, each state party is allocated a certain number of seats at the convention and within reason can fill the slots as they wish.

This "bottom up" state-based approach explains the great diversity in forms and dates. The DNC and RNC told the state parties that they didn't want any primaries or caucuses before Feb. 5 except for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, but Michigan and Florida scheduled theirs before that anyway. The Democrats punished them by stripping all their delegates; the Republicans were more merciful and stripped only half the delegates, about which more later.

On Feb. 5 about half the states are holding primaries or caucuses. Some of the Republican ones are winner-take-all (the guy with the most votes gets all the delegates) and some split the delegates in proportion to the popular vote. Others have both a primary (which chooses some of the delegates) and a caucus, which chooses more. Each state also has a formula for choosing PLEOs, for example, an election at a state convention. As a consequence of these rules, it is entirely possible that at the end of the ride (Montana and South Dakota vote on June 3) that no candidate has a majority of the delegates. For the Democrats, it could happen that Hillary Clinton gets 45% of the votes and delegates, Barack Obama gets 45% of the votes, and John Edwards gets 10% of the votes. For the Republicans, Mike Huckabee might win most of the winner-take-all southern states, Mitt Romney might win winner-take-all states in the North, and John McCain might sweep the West. Who knows.

All the delegates then assemble at their national convention (at their own expense). The first day or so is mostly PR, with party bigwigs giving speeches to rouse the troops and get as much free TV time as they can. Then the voting starts, in alphabetical order, by state. It is traditional that each state uses part of its 15 minutes of fame to praise itself, often in an amusing way, as in "Alabama, Heart of Dixie, home of the Marshall Space Flight Center, the Auburn University Tigers, and the Wetumpka crater, proudly casts X votes for ..." Then: "Alaska, the largest state, home to the highest mountain and the biggest bears in the United States, proudly casts Y votes for ..." In most states, the delegates pledged to a candidate are required by party rules (and sometimes state law) to vote for the candidate they are pledged to, but only on the first ballot.

If no candidate has a majority of the delegates coming in, we are going to see what are called "credentials fights." Michigan has already elected delegates (mostly for Clinton and Romney) and Florida will soon do so. Guaranteed these folks are going to show up at the convention and asked to be seated as full delegates. Then the credentials committee will hear their cases and decide what to do. Both delegations will say: "Hey, guys, we are from a large swing state. You want to win our state in November, better seat us to show the folks back home you care about us." If most of the disputed Democrats support, say, Clinton, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Clinton supporters on the credentials committee will vote to seat them and Obama supporters will say: "Rules are rules and you knowingly violated DNC rules; tough luck and don't do it in 2012." The committee could easily be deadlocked and the fight could spill out onto the convention floor.

A huge credentials fight broke out in 1964 when a busload of representatives from the racially integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party showed up at the DNC in Atlantic City, NJ, asking to be seated as truly representing Mississipi Democrats instead of the all-white regulars. Although President Lyndon Johnson was sympathetic to their cause (and signed the Voting Rights Act the next year), he didn't want to have the convention be focused on racism within the Democratic Party but rather on racism outside the party. He offered them two nonvoting seats, an offer they rejected, but the party learned its lesson for the future.

What if no candidate gets a majority (2025 delegates for the Democrats, 1191 for the much smaller Republican convention)? This is where "brokered convention" comes in. Actually, it is more like "All hell breaks loose." All delegates are now up for grabs. All the candidates try to grab as many delegates as they can. Some state chairman may try to strongarm their delegates into obeying orders so as to give the state chairman more clout in negotiating with the candidates ("Romney offered us three dams, five bridges, and a national park. What's your bid?)" But after the first ballot, the delegates are free agents don't have to obey their chairman or anyone. Some might not care about dams and bridges but might trade their vote for a promise to insert a plank in the platform to [ban voting machines, build a 20' electrified fence on the Mexican border, declare the chicken to be the national fowl, you name it].

With 50-55 states and 2000-4000 free agents running around, it could be quite a circus. The last brokered convention was the Republican convention of 1976, with neither Jerry Ford nor Ronald Reagan having a majority of the delegates coming into it. Reagan announced his Veep choice, the liberal senator Richard Schweiker (R-PA), and try to goad Ford into naming his, figuring whoever he chose would alienate half the party. Ford didn't take the bait and was eventually nominated. The bitter convention was at least partly responsible for Ford--then a sitting President--losing to Jimmy Carter in the general election.

What nobody wants (except for their opponents) is a repeat of the 1924 Democratic convention in New York City in which a northern Catholic opposed to prohibition and the Ku Klux Klan, Al Smith, faced off against a southern Protestant who supported prohbition and refused to denounce the Klan, William McAdoo. On July 4th, 1924, 20,000 Klansmen showed up in full dress uniform to throw baseballs at an effigy of Smith and burn crosses. After 99 ballots, Smith and McAdoo, both exhausted, withdrew. Finally, on the 16th day of the convention, John Davis was nominated on the 103rd ballot. A nominee who wasn't even a candidate coming into the convention is called a dark horse. (If both conventions are deadlocked this year and the candidates are ultimately Al Gore and Jeb Bush, we would have two dark horses.) Davis subequently lost the general election to Calvin Coolidge.

Conventions like this were common in the 19th century, when party bosses in smoke-filled rooms determined the nominees. When no-smoking bans started to appear all over the place, the parties had to adapt, so the current primary/caucus system began to take shape. This years' race to the bottom, with every state wanting to go first, is so broken there will be great pressure to change the system in 2012. Guys, you can't all go first. A national primary is one option, but that implies that candidates with less than $200 million in the bank need not apply. More on reform proposals some other time.

Duncan Hunter has endorsed Mike Huckabee. Maybe he figures that although nobody was willing to vote for him, the masses are sitting on the edge of their chairs waiting for him to tell them who else to vote for.

Below are the new polls. Barack Obama seems to be way ahead in South Carolina, presumably due to the many black voters there, possibly up to half the Democrats in the state. However, in future states, the demographics will be quite different. The most interesting poll is the Public Policy Institute poll of Florida. It was taken entirely after Fred Thompson dropped out. Florida has a closed primary (only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican primary) and John McCain may be in for a real fight without the independents to help. Currently it is a statistical tie.

State Pollster End date Clinton Obama Edwards Giuliani McCain Romney Huckabee
Florida Public Policy Inst. Jan. 22 19% 15% 28% 25%
Florida St. Petersburg Times Jan. 22 42% 23% 12% 15% 25% 23% 15%
Florida Insider Advantage Jan. 21 19% 18% 24% 12%
New Jersey Quinnipiac U. Jan. 22 49% 32% 10% 26% 29% 14% 9%
South Carolina Public Policy Inst. Jan. 21 28% 44% 15%        
South Carolina Rasmussen Jan. 21 28% 43% 17%        
South Carolina Zogby Jan. 22 24% 43% 15%        

The polling results for all states are available as a Web page and in .csv format.

CNN is keeping track of the delegates for the Democrats and for the Republicans. Note that other sources may differ because CNN is trying to count the PLEOs (Party Leaders and Elected Officials) and when different reporters call a PLEO and hear "Well, I like Hillary, but Barack has his charms too" they may score it differently. Here is CNN's count:


Clinton 210 Obama 123 Edwards 52 Kucinich 1     Needed: 2025
Romney 72 McCain 38 Huckabee 29 Thompson 8 Paul 6 Giuliani 1 Needed: 1191

-- The Votemaster
WWW www.electoral-vote.com