Four of the nine Republican candidates in Tennessee’s presidential primary ballot will have no committed delegates on the ballot with them on the March 6 ballot, while Mitt Romney has a surplus wanting to represent him at the Republican National Convention.
Candidates Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Perry also had a substantial slate of committed delegates on the ballot to qualify before the deadline earlier this month. Candidate Jon Huntsman has three — two of them being former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe and his wife, Joan.
Tennessee Republicans will elect delegates as well as choose their favorite as the party nominee March 6, though that part of the election gets relatively little attention. The candidates without delegates on the Tennessee ballot — Michelle Bachmann, Gary Johnson, Charles “Buddy” Roemer and Rick Santorum — can still win them at the polls and have delegates appointed later by the state Republican Executive Committee under party rules.
But getting delegates on the ballot does at least speak somewhat to a candidate’s organizational effort in the state, said Tennessee Republican Chairman Chris Devaney, who stresses his neutrality in the primary.
“I do think it shows a certain amount of organization on the part of the candidates who have gotten a good number of delegate candidates to run,” he said. “That certainly shows there’s a level of organization and that they’re thinking beyond the early primaries.”
Tennessee will have a total of 58 delegates to the Republican National Convention, to be held in Tampa. Twenty-seven will be elected from congressional districts — three from each of the state’s nine districts — and 14 “at large” delegates will be elected on the basis of statewide results. Thus, a full slate of delegate candidates would be 41.
Three people automatically are delegates — Devaney as state chairman, the state’s national committeman and national committeewoman. The remaining 14 delegates are selected by the state Executive Committee after the election results are certified and in consultation with candidates entitled to delegates.
A review of the list of qualifying delegates, available on the state Division of Elections website (HERE) indicates that Romney is the only candidate who has enough committed delegates to cover every delegate seat that could be won through the election, though Paul and Gingrich are close. Perry has 27 delegates for the congressional and at-large seats combined, which would cover a majority of the seats.
Candidates will be allocated delegates based on the results of the primary. A candidate must win 66 percent of the vote in a given congressional district to get all three of that district’s delegate seats. Similarly, he or she must win 66 percent of the vote statewide to win all the “at large” delegates.
If no candidate gets 66 percent of the vote, there is a somewhat complicated system for allocating delegates based on the percentage of the vote received. (Note: Click on this link for an explanation of the GOP delegate process: 2012_Presidential_Primary-_Delegates.ppt
Several Republican state legislators qualified as delegate candidates.
Lawmakers seeking to serve as Romney delegates include Reps. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, Barrett Rich of Somerville and Julia Hurley of Lenoir City. Former Gov. Winfield Dunn is also running for a Romney delegate seat along with Alicia Mumpower, wife of former House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol.
Legislators running as Gingrich delegates include Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville and Rep. Tony Shipley of Kingsport, who are co-directors of the candidate’s Tennessee campaign, and Reps. Joe Carr of Lascassas and Terri Lynn Weaver of Lancaster..
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, an early supporter of Perry, and his wife, Sindy, are both seeking delegate seats for the Texas governor. So are Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City, Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Sen. Jim Summerville of Dickson.
Haynes, who serves with Rich as “legislative co-chair” of Romney’s campaign, said the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign is “extremely well organized” in Tennessee and elsewhere.
Campfield said the Gingrich campaign’s ability to recruit so many delegate candidates in a relatively short time indicates growing support and enthusiasm for the former U.S. House speaker, especially given the difficulty in qualifying.
A candidate qualifying as a presidential delegate must gather 100 signatures from registered voters on his or her qualifying petition and, if running for a congressional district slot, they must live in the appropriate area. In contrast, a candidate for governor of Tennessee need have only 25 signatures from residents anywhere in the state.
High bar for signatures in Virginia
Gingrich failed to qualify to appear on Virginia’s presidential primary ballot because of a requirement there that does not exist in Tennessee.
Under Virginia law, a candidate must collect 10,000 voter signatures with a specified number coming from each congressional district. In Tennessee, the names appearing on the presidential ballot are selected by the secretary of state based on criteria set out in state law and no qualifying petition is necessary. Both states will hold primaries March 6.
“We believe that the Tennessee system puts the choice of presidential nominees where it belongs — in the hands of voters,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett in an emailed request for comment on the system. “There have been at least four frontrunners this election cycle. Our system gives each nationally recognized candidate a chance to prove they should be the frontrunner in the end.”
Campfield said that requiring a “reasonable” number of signatures to qualify as a candidate for any office may be appropriate, but 10,000 is “a pretty darn high bar” and 100 for a delegate slot is also a formidable obstacle for what is basically a volunteer position.
The senator said a couple of prospective Gingrich delegates fell just short — in one case, apparently by a single signature — in trying to reach the 100-voter goal.
Note: The rules for GOP presidential primaries were changed this year with the goal of ending “winner take all” elections in early primary states (Florida, for example) and instead have proportional allocation of delegates won on the basis of results — which Tenesseee already had. The AP has a story on the national ramifications HERE. One possibility is that the primary process will take longer.