One little-noticed fact of the high-profile New Hampshire primary is that it allocated only twelve delegates, half of its original total. The reason? Because it is being penalized, as will upcoming primaries in South Carolina and Florida, by the Republican National Committee for holding its primary before March.
In preparation for this election cycle the RNC adopted a set of rules designed to slow the mad rush to move primaries ever earlier. States were penalized for holding their primary before March, and required to allocate at least some of their delegates proportionally if they held their primary before April.
New Hampshire was happy to accept the penalty as the price of retaining its position as the nation’s first primary. Since New Hampshire is a small state that never had too many delegates anyway, its power is determined by the media’s frenzied coverage, which was not dimmed by its even smaller than usual number of delegates.
The proportional allocation element of the RNC’s rules that was designed for the same purpose as penalizing states that push their primary way up—to slow a frontrunner’s steamroll—will affect a greater number of states. (None of these rules apply to caucuses.) Thirty-one states (including the US Virgin Islands, but not including Washington, DC) will hold a Republican nomination contest before April 1. Of these, thirteen are caucuses. The remaining eighteen primaries are subject to the RNC’s proportional allocation requirements. However, some of the states, such as Arizona and Florida, which are losing half their delegates for voting before March, are planning to allocate all their delegates to the winner. Since they are unlikely to be punished a second time and lose all their delegates, they figure they are exempted from the proportional allocation requirement. South Carolina is, in fact, exempted—although it is having its delegates’ vote at the RNC halved—so it is using its traditional winner-take-all system as well.
The idea, according to David Norcross, a RNC member who helped draft the rules, is to prevent someone from speeding through a series of early primary wins and racking up a majority of delegates too quickly. In 2008 Norcross supported Mitt Romney, and he thinks that Romney would have made a stronger candidate in the general election that John McCain. He blames the early winner-take-all states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina for catapulting McCain to the nomination. Just generally slowing the process down would be better, regardless of who benefits, says Norcross.
“If we spread it out it would give a candidate an opportunity to stumble and recover or come in late and raise money and be viable, and not just have it be all over in February,” says Norcross. “Proportional allocation slows it down. That was the purpose: to try to convince states that they ought to wait until at least March or April. If they didn’t the side effect would be to slow down the process of attaining a winner.”