We've spent a lot of time talking about Ron Paul's "caucus strategy" approach to the GOP nomination season, but haven't really been able to illustrate what's actually going on behind the scenes. The lackadaisical approach is to liken Paul's strategy to the advantage Barack Obama took in the caucuses in 2008, where the distribution of delegates by vote proportion was better understood by his campaign team than by the team of his chief rival, Hillary Clinton. Taking advantage of complacency is sort of what the Paul campaign is up to, but Paul's strategy hinges more on a careful study of the process and not so much on Mark Penn being an idiot.
What's important to note about these nonbinding caucuses in states like Iowa and Colorado is that they are part of a long, drawn-out process. The klieg lights and the cable teevee cameras have captured the sexier, drenched-in-pageantry opening act, but the real work is actually still to come, and when it does, it's not going to get covered in the same glittering way.
In Iowa, for example, what we all call the "Iowa caucuses" do nothing more than select delegates who then go to county conventions next month, where the delegates selected in January will be winnowed down into a group of delegates who will attend congressional district conventions and, finally, the state convention, where the 25 delegates who will eventually attend the Republican National Convention are selected.
To use another example, Colorado has a process that's much the same. The best source for learning the ins and outs of the process is The Green Papers, and here's how they describe what actually happened this past Tuesday:
Tuesday 7 February 2012: Precinct Caucuses meet in each precinct at 7p MST to choose delegates to the County Assemblies and District Conventions. Caucuses last about 1.5 hours. There are 2,917 precincts.
- There is no formal system applied in the Precinct Caucus to relate the presidential preference of the participants to the choice of the precinct's delegates to the Colorado County Assemblies and District Conventions; however, a non-binding Presidential Preference poll of the delegates will be conducted. (NOTE: It is the District Conventions and the State Convention that will actually pledge Republican National Convention delegates to presidential contenders).
Delegates selected at the Precinct Caucuses may (but are not required to) declare their Presidential Preference.
Since no National Convention delegates are bound to Presidential contenders, the Precinct Caucuses do not violate the RNC's Tuesday 6 March 2012 timing rule.
That forms the foundation of what's to come, which -- like in Iowa -- is a process that involves later conventions in which the delegates selected Tuesday night are winnowed down to those who will eventually go to Tampa.
I've bolded a couple of points in the block quote above that are pertinent to explaining Paul's strategy, which is best illustrated by a campaign email to supporters that Dave Weigel published yesterday:
We are confident in gaining a much larger share of delegates than even our impressive showing yesterday indicates. As an example of our campaign's delegate strength, take a look at what has occurred in Colorado:
- In one precinct in Larimer County, the straw poll vote was 23 for Santorum, 13 for Paul, 5 for Romney, 2 for Gingrich. There were 13 delegate slots, and Ron Paul got ALL 13.
- In a precinct in Delta County the vote was 22 for Santorum, 12 for Romney, 8 for Paul, 7 for Gingrich. There were 5 delegate slots, and ALL 5 went to Ron Paul.
- In a Pueblo County precinct, the vote was 16 for Santorum, 11 for Romney, 3 for Gingrich and 2 for Paul. There were 2 delegate slots filled, and both were filled by Ron Paul supporters.
- We are also seeing the same trends in Minnesota, Nevada, and Iowa, and in Missouri as well.
See what's happening there? Way back in January, Josh Putnam made note of how well Paul's people understand this process, specifically noting the attention they were paying to "the back end of the process." To that end, Paul's caucus attendees have been well coached and instructed to go to their precincts looking well-dressed and well-groomed. And Paul campaign adviser Dan Godzich told Business Insider that "part of what we've been training the Ron Paul people to do is not to leave after the vote. ... Stay and get elected to the conventions and get us those delegates."
Now you know why Paul, in greeting his supporters Tuesday night, particularly hung on that word: "Delegates."
If the story the campaign is telling its supporters is true, then Paul's organizational efforts are really paying off. Those downstream convention events may be populated by far more Paul delegates than might otherwise be expected, given the results of the vote. This doesn't mean necessarily that Paul will notch the nomination, of course. But it could mean that the rest of the field are going to discover they don't have the number of bound delegates heading to Tampa that they think they'll have.
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