Missouri GOP delegate system change impacts 2016 primary

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COLUMBIA - Voters in Missouri headed to the polls Tuesday to fill out a ballot with national implications for the last time until the general election in November. For voters in the Republican primary, their votes impacted the primary differently than they did in 2012.

Last election cycle, Missouri's GOP delegates were non-binding, meaning they could support any Republican candidate at the national convention. This year, the party changed the process to encourage more campaigning around the state from presidential candidates.

How it works now: 

  • 5 delegates are awarded to the winner of each of the state's eight voting districts
  • 12 additional delegates are awarded to the overall winner of the state
  • If a candidate wins more than 50 percent of the state's overall vote, they get all 52 pledged delegates

Missouri Voting District Map:

 

Boone County Republicans Chairman Mike Zweifel said the new system helped expose Missouri to candidates better than in 2012. 

"I think we saw more candidates here in Missouri than last time. Especially given that we had more or less a beauty contest in 2012 versus this year," Zweifel said.

GOP candidates John Kasich and Marco Rubio both decided not to campaign in Missouri as they focused on their home states, Ohio and Florida respectively. If either lost his home state, winning the party's nomination would be even more difficult. Trump defeated Rubio in Florida, claiming all 99 of its delegates. 

University of Missouri Professor of American Politics Peverill Squire said the Ohio and Florida elections, grouped with Ted Cruz's belief he could win voting districts in Missouri, shaped the way campaigning in the state happened this time around.

"Candidates who think they have a serious chance in winner-take-all states like Ohio and Florida are going to focus their efforts there. Ted Cruz thinks he can pick up delegates in Missouri, so that's why we saw him campaigning there," Squire said.

Changing the delegate allocation process came down to wanting candidates to travel around the state, exposing more voters to them before the primaries. While GOP front runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz each spent time in the state, they did not travel far. Trump spoke in St. Louis on Friday, and Cruz held an event in Maryland Heights on Saturday. Counting Cruz's wife Heidi's visits to Belleville and Columbia, the top two candidates only campaigned in three of the state's eight voting districts. 

When campaigning for national office, Squire said it doesn't make sense to expect the candidates to jump around the state.

"It's probably not realistic for presidential candidates to campaign in Missouri outside of maybe St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and possibly Columbia if they're traveling," Squire said.

A lot of this has to do with the other states voting on the same day as well. Especially as fellow GOP candidates try to prevent Trump from winning an outright nomination and forcing a contested convention, it all comes down to delegate numbers. 

Zweifel, however, doesn't want the party's nomination to come down to a contested convention. 

"Hopefully someone can just come up with the majority of the delegates and that's that, but that may not happen," Zweifel said.

Other states voting Tuesday simply have more delegates to award to GOP candidates.

GOP Delegates on the Line:

 

Florida has 99 Republican delegates and Ohio has 66; each is a "winner-take-all" state. This means whichever candidate gets the most overall votes, regardless of if they have an overall majority, wins all of the state's delegates. North Carolina has 72 delegates at stake and Illinois has 69, but neither of those states awards delegates on a "winner-take-all" basis.

Entering Tuesday, Trump had 460 delegates, Cruz had 360, Rubio had 163, and Kasich had 63. A candidate needs 1,237 to win the outright nomination. If nobody reaches that total by the end of the primaries, the party can decide a candidate at a contested convention. 

The Democrats award their delegates differently in Missouri. They have 84 delegates, 13 of which are "super delegates", meaning they can vote for whichever candidate they want regardless of who the public votes for. That leaves 71 delegates up for grabs. Forty-seven of those are awarded based on voting in each of the state's eight districts, while the other 24 are awarded based on statewide voting. 

Since analysts predicted a close vote between candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was expected, they are likely to walk away with a similar number of delegates.

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