In an ironic postscript to the Kansas Republican caucus Saturday, it turns out that if Mitt Romney had just gotten slightly fewer votes, he’d have wound up losing less ground to his closest rival, Rick Santorum.
Santorum easily won the caucus with 51.2 percent to Romney’s 20.9.
That gave Santorum, who trails Romney in the national race, 33 Kansas delegates to Romney’s seven.
However, if Romney had finished at 19.9 percent, about 290 votes less, he’d have lost two delegates — but it would have cost Santorum five delegates.
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The reason for that seemingly counterintuitive outcome is that there is a little-known clause in the state Republicans’ caucus rules, dealing with how delegates are “bound” to candidates.
If two or more candidates clear the 20 percent threshold, they divide all the delegates, proportional to their share of the vote. Candidates below the 20 percent line don’t get any.
But if only one candidate is over 20 percent, then the delegates are proportionally divided between all the candidates.
If Romney hadn’t reached 20 percent Saturday, Santorum would have only gotten 28 delegates instead of 33 and Romney would have gotten five instead of seven .
Newt Gingrich would have picked up four and Ron Paul three.
As it was through much of the Kansas campaign, the Romney press office was silent, referring questions to a spokesperson who didn’t answer an e-mail request for comment. Topeka lawyer Bill Sneed, who monitored the vote count for the Romney campaign, also deferred to the same spokesperson.
Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University, said he thinks Romney is just as happy to have picked up his extra two delegates, even though it let Santorum gain more ground on him.
In the national race, Romney’s goal is to reach 1,144 GOP convention delegates, the number needed to clinch the nomination going into the party’s national convention in September, Beatty said.
For his rivals, “realistically, what they want to do is deny him that first-ballot victory,” opening the door to vote-switching on the caucus floor.
Kansas delegates are among the most tightly bound to their candidates in the nation. Many states allow their delegates to change sides after a certain number of convention floor votes, but Kansas delegates are required to keep voting for their candidate until the candidate releases them.
Although Romney picked up two key Kansas endorsements —former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole and Secretary of State Kris Kobach — Romney never really made an effort at Kansas.
The bulk of the state’s Republican activists — the most likely caucus participants — are religious and social conservatives whose views dovetail closely with Santorum’s. The former Pennsylvania senator and super PACs supporting his candidacy heavily courted Kansas, with Johnson County and Wichita campaign stops by the candidate, a campaign office in Wichita, mailers and robocalls. Santorum sent his wife, Karen, to represent him at the Wichita-area caucus.
Santorum, who lost a closely contested Ohio primary to Romney in the March 6 Super Tuesday vote, had identified Kansas as a must-win, and Kansans responded by giving him his biggest margin of victory in any state.
Clay Barker, executive director of the state Republican Party, said he didn’t know of any corresponding efforts on Romney’s part.
Barker said the campaign had a tentative plan for Romney to come to Kansas but it never got beyond the talking stage, as the candidate turned his attention to primaries in Guam and the Norther Mariana Islands, which he won, and Alabama and Mississippi, which vote Tuesday.
Romney had no representative to speak for him at the Wichita caucus, the state’s largest Republican gathering. Instead, Bob Dool, acting in his duty the Sedgwick County party chairman, read the political equivalent of a form letter sent by the Romney campaign.
“Romney never really had a point of contact on the ground,” in Kansas, Barker said.
About Romney’s only nod to Kansas was a news release several hours after the caucus, which quoted him as saying: “I am pleased that Kansans joined voters around the country in supporting my candidacy … I thank all the voters who participated in the Kansas caucuses and look forward to winning Kansas in November.”