Why California may play key role in GOP race

By Yousur Alhlou

Washington – Super Tuesday’s split decision gives California a rare opportunity to play a decisive role in determining the outcome of the Republican presidential contest.

The failure of any candidate to take command of the campaign makes it increasingly likely that the state’s June 5 primary and its 172 delegates will be fiercely contested.

Republican front-runner Mitt Romney – who won roughly half the delegates at stake Tuesday – would need to secure more than 60 percent of the delegates in the 28 primaries and caucuses before California’s primary to clinch the nomination.

Romney’s challengers have an even more daunting task. Rick Santorum would need to win 80 percent of the remaining delegates to claim the nomination before June 5, while Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul would need 87 and 99 percent, respectively.

That makes it increasingly likely that California’s 5 million registered Republicans will have the opportunity to either push Romney over the top June 5, or deprive him of the delegates he needs to secure the nomination.

“California is the treasure trove of delegates,” said California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, who said that the state is well positioned to put the nominee “over the top.”

Romney’s campaign used the delegate math Wednesday to make the case that none of his competitors stood a chance of winning the nomination.

Republican candidates must secure 1,144 delegates to win the nomination. According to the Associated Press, Romney leads with 415 delegates, followed by Santorum with 176, Gingrich with 105 and Paul – who has yet to win a presidential primary or caucus – with 47.

That leaves Romney needing 729 delegates, with roughly 1,500 still in play before the GOP convention in Tampa in August.

Delegate counts in the Republican campaign vary depending on who is counting, due to state-by-state rules, which leave room for interpretation. Some states distribute all of their delegates to the popular vote winner, while most divide them based on complex formulas, taking into account winners in individual congressional districts.

Even a Romney sweep of the remaining states might net him less than half the remaining delegates if the campaign remains a four-candidate race.

There are 172 delegates at stake in California, a state often labeled as irrelevant because its primary is usually held long after the nominees are selected. In 2012, each of the state’s 53 congressional districts is allocated three delegates bound by their district’s primary results, with an additional 10 delegates awarded to the top vote-getter, and three uncommitted until the convention.

The latest Field Poll of California voters, conducted in mid-February, showed Romney leading Santorum 31 percent to 25 percent. Paul was favored by 16 percent, and Gingrich trailed with 12 percent.

The state’s role as a political powerhouse in presidential primaries is typically due to its generous donors, not its closely contested vote. In 2008, Republican John McCain defeated Romney by more than 200,000 votes and received 155 of the state’s 173 delegates.

So far, President Obama has raised $15.5 million in California while Romney has raised $6.9 million, more than all of his GOP counterparts combined, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Yousur Alhlou is a reporter for California News Service, a journalism project of the University of California Washington Center and the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. cns@ucdc.edu.

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