Michigan delegate division becomes divisive

Michigan’s 30 delegates ended up split 16 to 14 between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, after a close-run primary.  I saw numerous reports over the past few days putting the split at 15-15, which was puzzling, because I had always been under the impression that 28 of the delegates would be allocated by congressional district, with the last 2 given to the winner of the popular vote in the Michigan primary.  There’s no way that system could have produced a 15-15 tie.

It turns out that I was right about the way things were supposed to work, but there was some confusion about when this rule was established, and insinuations were made that the dastardly hand of the dreaded Establishment was intervening on Mitt Romney’s behalf.  From the Detroit News today:

Rick Santorum’s grassroots supporters in Michigan are calling on state Republican Party leaders to reverse their decision to award two statewide delegates to Mitt Romney in Tuesday’s presidential primary.

The GOP credentials committee’s 4-2 decision Wednesday gave Michigan native Romney a 16-14 victory over Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who believes he and Romney actually tied for delegates. Romney beat Santorum in the popular vote, 41 percent to 38 percent.

But Santorum’s campaign argues the two statewide delegates should be split up based on an earlier understanding of the primary rules.

During a press conference at Santorum’s former headquarters in Troy, his supporters predicted there would be hell to pay for GOP leaders if they don’t reconsider their decision to award Romney the delegate win.

“If this is not reversed, this is going to hurt the Republican Party from within,” said Jason Gillman, a tea party activist and Grand Traverse County commissioner.

Grassroots conservatives, especially those in the tea party factions of the Republican Party, are distrustful of state party leaders, Gillman said.

“Something like this just drives the wedge further,” Gillman said by phone.

As the Detroit News goes on to note, the system for awarding delegates was settled at a February 4 meeting of the Michigan Republican Party’s credentials committee.  I had a chance to speak with Norm Shinkle of the Michigan Republican Party, who confirmed that the rules for allocating the two statewide delegates were determined long before the primary was held.

Shinkle attributed some of the confusion to internal memos that were not worded clearly, along with discussion of how Michigan’s plans would be affected when they moved their primary up to February.  Yes, we’re once again suffering through chaos because penalties were assessed against a state party for holding their primary early.  Michigan is supposed to have 59 delegates, but only 30 of them will be allowed to vote.  One of the alternative plans for awarding the two state delegates would have split them between the two leading candidates, if the popular vote was very close.  Romney won the overall state vote by a narrow margin of 41 – 38 over Santorum.

Given the confusion surrounding a number of other state primaries, and how some media outlets were reporting a 15-15 delegate split before it “suddenly changed” to 16-14, it’s not surprising that people might be quick to assume something untoward happened.  Shinkle echoed the sentiments expressed by state party spokesman Matt Frendewey to the Detroit News:

Frendewey acknowledged he and others in the party did not clearly communicate the rules to the media and rank-and-file Republicans.

“Just because it didn’t get communicated clearly doesn’t change the vote,” he said.

Frendewey said Santorum’s campaign has been trying to create a fight within the Michigan Republican Party, noting Santorum had declared a tie before the state party had tabulated all of the ballots in each congressional district.

“This idea that this is a backdoor deal that took place in the middle of the night is just ludicrous and doesn’t pass the smell test,” Frendewey said. “I’m sure they’re doing what’s best for their candidate.”

The disposition of a single delegate might not seem like such a big deal, but of course it has a great effect on the campaign narrative rolling into Super Tuesday.