Effort to change Texas primary to winner-take-all could benefit Santorum

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist JOHN FISHER

khou.com

Posted on April 7, 2012 at 10:57 AM

Updated Saturday, Apr 7 at 11:55 AM

AUSTIN, Texas -- Eyeing a second-half comeback, Rick Santorum may have a "Hail Mary" in his playbook.

"There's a move in Texas to make Texas a winner-take-all state," Santorum told reporters Wednesday at a campaign stop in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. "You throw those 154 delegates on our pile, and all of a sudden this race becomes a very different race."

Members of the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) are asking for an emergency meeting, where a two-thirds vote would be required to change the rules.

"Their solid support is probably a majority, and I think they have a pretty good chance of getting two thirds," Republican Party of Texas chairman Steve Munisteri told KVUE Friday.

Some hope the move would allow Santorum or another candidate, if they can win Texas, to pick up at least enough delegates to take the race to the national convention in August.

Munisteri suggests hesitance by the Mitt Romney campaign to agree to a televised debate in Texas has led some party leaders to seek additional measures to ensure Texas receives the proper national attention. Munisteri believes the move could help ensure the state's relevance in the primary process.

"I've been wanting a winner-take-all from the start," said Munisteri. "I think quite correctly people thought that if you could all of a sudden win 155 delegates out of Texas, people would be forced to pay attention to this state."

Others disagree.

"We're already relevant," countered Austin SREC member Don Zimmerman. "Texas is the largest, probably, and strongest GOP state in the union, so we're relevant irrespective of what the voting rules are. We just think it's more fair to have proportional voting in general."

Zimmerman cautions any change would have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Republican National Committee -- a process which could prove problematic.

"They might look at that as an attempt to change the proportional rules at the last minute to manipulate an outcome," warned Zimmerman, pointing to the RNC's decision to cut Florida's delegates by half for defying party rules. "So there could be other rules that punish us with our delegate count."

Munisteri suggests RNC rules that originally forced Texas to change its modified winner-take-all delegate process to the current proportional system in September may offer a way out.

"Now that the primary is in May, you're allowed to have winner-take-alls under RNC rules," said Munisteri. "So an argument could be advanced that, 'Look, we're really not changing our rules. We're going back to where we originally had the rules, and then you guys made us change them because of when we are running our primary.'"

Munisteri also offers a suggestion for meeting the Justice Department's requirements as well.

"A way that that could be handled is to pass the rule change contingent on getting DOJ approval before the national convention," said Munisteri.

Using the 2008 election as an example, Zimmerman argues Texas' current proportional system offers the best road forward for the Republican Party.

"Four years ago, McCain wrapped up the nomination real early. That did not help him," said Zimmerman. "The Democrat primary lasted into May and June and that actually helped them. So we could make an argument that proportional voting prolongs the primary process. That helps the voters, and ultimately it helps the candidates as well, and it increases voter participation."

There have been some disputes over the delegate projections so far, and the official count according to the RNC shows a somewhat closer race.

Of the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination, Mitt Romney leads with 573 delegates to Rick Santorum's 202. Newt Gingrich comes in third with 132 delegates, followed by Ron Paul with 26. The RNC's count includes 101 unbound delegates, some of whom may have promised support for one candidate but are free to change their minds. 

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