FHQ tweeted yesterday that a better indicator of where Rick Santorum stands in the Republican presidential nomination race currently may be the North Dakota Republican state convention this weekend instead of the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday.
Well, the emerging conventional wisdom is that the contest is, at best, slipping away from Santorum if it has not already completely slipped out of his campaign's grasp. Wisconsin is another one of those midwestern/Rust Belt opportunities for the former Pennsylvania senator (see Michigan, Ohio and Illinois), but North Dakota represents a state where he has already done well; winning the March 6 straw poll in the Peace Garden state. If he performs up to or overperforms the 39% of the vote he received in the straw poll in the convention delegate selection, then nothing really changes. If, however, Santorum underperforms in the delegate count compared to his straw poll vote share in North Dakota, then that is likely to be indicative of lack of organization within the Santorum campaign concerning caucus/convention states, state party establishment coalescence around Mitt Romney (or another candidate or candidates), and/or the delegates at the state convention collectively coming to a different conclusion as to which delegates represent the state at the national convention.
Recall that the 25 North Dakota delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa are technically unbound. The straw poll had no binding effect on the delegates who will ultimately be chosen. That said, it appears that the North Dakota Republican Party has made some effort to use that unbound loophole to their advantage; putting up for a vote at today's convention proceedings a group of delegates that seemingly leans heavily toward Mitt Romney. Romney placed third in the Super Tuesday straw poll in North Dakota with just under 24% of the vote.
However, news emerging from the convention this morning indicates that Romney may have the support of up to 60% of the national convention delegates placed in nomination and voted on by the state convention delegates. The formula used by the North Dakota State Executive Committee that yielded that outcome was weighted toward volunteers, donors and elected officials, obviously a group aligned with the establishment in the North Dakota GOP and more likely -- it could be argued -- to support Romney.
Given that both Rick Santorum and Ron Paul finished ahead of Romney in the straw poll, their supporters on the floor of Saturday's convention meeting were not happy and quite vocal in opposition to the slate of delegates put forth by the state party for a vote by the state convention delegates. Former North Dakota Republican Party chairman and Santorum supporter, Gary Emineth, called the delegate selection process "a railroad job" and that the party establishment had "hijacked" the process.. Additionally, current chairman, Stan Stein, shouted down dissenting voices and failed to recognize others as the process fell into a back and forth of parliamentary procedure.
The party and most of the convention was willing to proceed to the other business of the day: endorsements in races down-ballot from the presidential race. Following that, the convention adjourned for today while ballots were still being counted from the national delegate vote. That will be finalized tonight sometime.
So much for those AP fantasy delegates allocated to Santorum and Paul after Super Tuesday. Unbound these delegates may be, but they have preferences that in the aggregate seem to favor Mitt Romney well above his straw poll support level.