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How the US will choose its Presidential candidates

Each state holds a primary election or, sometimes, a more informal caucus to choose its delegates to the convention, writes Pramit Pal Chaudhri.

world Updated: Feb 12, 2008 23:10 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhri

The Goal: The Democratic candidate who wins the nomination needs to secure 2,025 delegates at the party convention in August. The Republican candidate needs to get 1,191 delegate votes at the party convention in September to be the party’s presidential candidate.
There are two key ways to get delegate votes. One is to win them at the state by state primary elections. The other is to get a candidate who has given up his race to “hand over” his delegate votes. The Democrats have a third way: win the 796 superdelegates who can vote anyway they want.

The Primaries: Each state holds a primary election or, sometimes, a more informal caucus to choose its delegates to the convention. In some states, the candidate who wins the primary gets all delegate votes. Others have a proportional system. Some, like Texas, have a complex system of caucuses and primaries and give more delegates to districts with high voter turnout. However, the prize catches are the most populous states as the size of state delegations are based on their populations.

The Calendar: The Democrats have already apportioned 2003 delegates, 1929 of them between Obama and Clinton. Between February 19 and June 7, seventeen states and US territories will hold primaries. March 4 alone will see over 400 delegates in play, with two big states Texas and Ohio holding primaries. On April 22, Pennsylvania’s 188 delegates will be up for grabs. The Republican have apportioned 1257 delegates, mostly to McCain. Romney, who has withdrawn from the race, is still number two with 285 delegates but he has not transferred them to another candidate.Between February 19 and June 3, nineteen Republican state primaries will be held. March 4 will also be a big date: some 250 delegates will be up for grabs.

The Oddities: The Democratic race may be decided by the superdelegates. These represent party leaders such as all the Democratic congressmen, state governors and other senior party leaders. They total 796 delegate votes, sizable enough to swing the Democratic convention one way or the other. Clinton has more of them than Obama – but they can switch their vote at any time they want. Independent voters are those who do not register as either Democrat or Republican on the voter lists. Most, but not all, state primaries allow independents to vote. Because independents represent about a third of the electorate, their participation is a good barometer of which candidate will fair well at the national election. Obama and McCain have depended heavily on independent voters for their primary victories.

The Convention: There is a distinct possibility that neither Democratic candidates will have enough delegates at the start of the convention, especially if the superdelegates are divided. There may then be repeated ballots to find a winner. Some state party units may order their delegates to switch their votes. This is less likely in the Republican race, but even that could change if Romney releases his delegates and urges them to vote for Huckabee.