jueves, 22 de marzo de 2012

Kim Lehman, la captadora de superdelegados de Team Santorum

Habrá 117 superdelegados en la convención republicana de Tampa con libertad para apoyar a cualquier candidato. Así que los equipos de los candidatos ya se han puesto manos a la obra para reunir el apoyo de estos privilegiados protagonistas del proceso que, además, pueden tener influencia sobre los delegados comunes de sus estados en caso de una convención disputada.

National Review nos presenta a la encargada de la difícil misión de captar a esos superdelegados para Santorum:
A year ago, Kim Lehman, a Republican National Committee member from Iowa, paced across the ballroom at the Gaylord Hotel in National Harbor, Md., hunting for votes. The race for the party chairmanship had reached an unprecedented seventh ballot and her candidate, Wisconsin Republican Reince Priebus, was nearing the prize. But he wasn’t there yet.

Lehman, an influential pro-life activist, huddled with her fellow social conservatives, urging them to back Priebus, who, she promised, would be their champion. A few minutes later, the 168 party leaders marked their ballots. The votes were quickly tallied, and a winner was finally declared: Priebus, with 97 votes, had secured the majority, and the chair.

For Lehman, recalling that tense, thrilling moment isn’t merely nostalgic — it’s instructive. This August, when Republicans convene in Tampa, she may find herself once again assisting a conservative insurgent with a floor fight. As a longtime Rick Santorum supporter who is trusted by the former senator’s inner circle, she would be a key figure at a contested convention.

Altogether, the RNC will send over 100 “super delegates,” including Lehman, to the convention. These officials are a sliver of the necessary 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination. But as party grandees in their respective states, they will likely play an outsize role should no one secure the nomination on the first ballot.

As Lehman explains, it’s the RNC veterans, not necessarily the elected delegates, who will manage the floor should such a scenario unfold. Since the super delegates are familiar with the GOP’s complicated rulebook, they’ll be the ones wooing the party’s unbound delegates and crafting the coalitions.

“I’ve been through this before,” Lehman says. “To win on the floor when there could easily be multiple ballots, you need to know how to lobby people, how to work with different groups.” Her role, she adds, is different than that of John Brabender, Santorum’s top adviser, or Mike Biundo, Santorum’s campaign manager. “I have my niche,” she says. “I’m doing everything I can within that niche, within the RNC, to build support.”

Indeed, as Santorum stumps in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, ahead of those states’ April primaries, Lehman and her allies are focused on another state, Arizona, where RNC members will gather next month. The Scottsdale confab will be members’ first face-to-face meeting since the RNC’s winter conference. Since then, Santorum’s support has grown significantly, and Lehman hopes to see more than a few RNC members — after connecting with like-minded peers — go public with their support.

“We’ll talk on a one-to-one level,” Lehman says. “This is a group that loves politics, that loves debates. But they’re pretty good strategists, too. There are a lot of people who like [Santorum], but until they’re positive that he’s going to win, they’re not going to reveal that. Over the past few months, I think the electability question has been answered; the final part of this process will be encouraging them to stand with us. It can be tricky.”

Romney has also struggled to build wide support within the RNC community. After the early March primaries, the Associated Press surveyed 107 of the RNC’s 117 super delegates. As expected, Romney won that poll — 24 RNC members endorsed him, putting him well ahead of Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul, who all pulled single-digit support. But the biggest winner, Santorum aides remind me, remains “undecided.”

(...) There is a sense within Santorum’s senior team that if they can turn in strong performances in upcoming states, such as Louisiana and Wisconsin, the party establishment will hesitate to fully embrace Romney before the convention. This would enable Lehman and other pro-Santorum forces within the RNC’s upper echelon to cobble together blocs of undecided Romney skeptics before a Tampa scramble.

Of course, sustaining this strategy — especially in the early summer, when Romney advisers and many Beltway pundits may chide Santorum to leave the race — will not be easy. The pressure for Santorum to bow out, should he remain in second place in the delegate tally after the final primary election in June, will be intense — even if Romney fails to reach the magic 1,144.

(...) But the immediate challenge is to contest Romney’s growing lead. That’s why the Santorum campaign is putting such an emphasis this week on RNC rules, state conventions, and delegate math. On the surface, they want to compete with Romney in upcoming primaries. Behind the scenes, they’re well aware that they’re being outgunned. So if they can’t beat him now, they want to be in a position to have one final shot in Tampa.