WASHINGTON -- A top official with the Newt Gingrich campaign said Thursday that the former House speaker would take a challenge over the allocation of Florida's delegates all the way to the GOP convention floor if circumstances demanded it.
Bill McCollum, Gingrich's Florida co-chair and the state's former Attorney General, confirmed to Fox News that his candidate was appealing a rule dictating that the winner of the Florida primary receive all of the state's 50 delegates. Arguing that a strict reading of the RNC bylaws requires those delegates to be distributed proportionally, McCollum pledged to make the case to the Republican Party's contest committee, and appeal beyond there if need be.
"If this is a close thing if we go to the convention it will be taken to the credentials committee and possibly to the convention floor," McCollum said. Asked whether he would be making such threats if Gingrich had won Florida (and its full slate of delegates) rather than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, McCollum replied, "No. But Romney would be. And so you've got to really realize that whoever is going to lose is going to make this challenge."
Evocations of convention floor chaos are most likely bluffs on the part of the Gingrich campaign. Furthermore, one possible resolution in the debate over Florida's delegates is that they end up firmly in Romney's camp -- not because the credentials committee will rule in his favor, but because Gingrich will have exited the race by then and the issue will be moot.
Until that happens, however, the Gingrich campaign's challenge has the potential to cause a headache for the Republican Party. Appearing before McCollum on Fox News, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was diplomatic and non-committal about the appeals process.
"If a delegate wants to bring a case [to the contest committee], they can," he said. "I can't guarantee how they are going to do but I can tell you that there is a process."
Privately, however, those close to the RNC argue that the Gingrich appeal is a case of sour grapes, nothing more. The rules say that any state that holds a primary or caucus prior to April 1 cannot have a "winner-take-all" election. If a state violates this rule by moving up its primary, the punishment is a fifty percent reduction in the number of delegates it sends to the 2012 convention. This is precisely what happened with Florida, which would have awarded the winner of its primary 99 delegates had it not changed the date.
For a number of GOP officials, however, the punishment didn't match the crime. Other states chose not to move their primaries ahead in the calendar, they argue, precisely because a strict reading of the bylaws suggests they'd be forced to become proportional contests if they did so.
"Left unclear in the interaction of Rules 15(b)(2) and 16 is whether the RNC is required to impose proportional allocation of delegates for any state, such as Florida, which elected to violate the mandate that all binding primaries and caucuses held before April 1, 2012 "shall provide for the allocation of delegates on a proportional basis," reads the official Gingrich campaign appeal. "A clear read of the straightforward language of Revised Rule 15(b)(2) would appear to indicate that proportional allocation in Florida is mandatory upon the RNC."
The question now is whether the RNC can or will retroactively divide Florida's delegates in a proportional manner. One top Republican Party official told The Huffington Post that doing so would be nearly impossible. There is no set standard for what constitutes a proportional allocation of delegates. Moreover, the official added, "there is no mechanism for the RNC to override Florida's decision."
Others in the party are less certain of that.
"Certified results of elections are easily available from the Secretary of State for each state," Mark Cross, an executive board member of the Republican Party of Florida, wrote in a November 2011 letter to Priebus. "The RNC can calculate, report and record the proportional vote and easily enforce this rule. The proper counting and allocation is simply a matter of mathematical enforcement of the rules and should not be confused with any penalty because a state and its voters will not be losing their voice in any way."