The Republican Primary's Rotten Boroughs

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 16 2012 9:39 AM

The Republican Primary's Rotten Boroughs

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TO GO WITH AFP STORY 'Guam-US-Japan-diplomacy-military-economy,FOCUS' by Neil Sands This picture taken on February 22, 2012 shows used construction materials that have been left abandoned next to the Ukudu Workforce Housing Village in Dededo. Row upon row of dormitories lie empty at the Ukudu housing complex in northern Guam amid uncertainty over US plans to relocate thousands of Marines from Japan to the Pacific island nation. Work on the project began two years ago, in anticipation of an economic boom in Guam following a 2006 agreement between Washington and Tokyo to transfer 8,000 Marines and 9,000 dependents from the Japanese island of Okinawa. AFP PHOTO / Jonathan Abella (Photo credit should read Jonathan Abella/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by Jonathan Abella/AFP/Getty Images

Let's say you're a Republican voter in American Samoa. This week, you joined 69 of your peers at Toa Bar and Grill, and together you decided to assign nine delegates to Mitt Romney -- six on the spot, three superdelegates. Every delegate represented eight voters.

Now, say you're a Florida Republican voter. You were one of 1,672,634 people casting votes in the contest for 50 delegates. (The number was slashed because Florida was rude to the Republican National Committee and pushed its primary up.) When the race was called, every delegate represented 33,453 voters.

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The difference between Florida and American Samoa is this: A Republican's vote in the island territory was worth 4,182 times more than a Republican's vote in Florida. This is the most dramatic caucus-to-primary vote gap I've found. In Mississippi, for example, 289,935 decided the fate of 37 delegates. (Three more will be assigned later, so voters didn't really get a say about that.) Every delegate represented 7,836 voters.

And one reason Santorum did so well was that Super Tuesday and a subsequent Kansas win gave him room to argue that he was the consensus conservative candidate. "Last Saturday, we won in Kansas!" he told the room at his final pre-Dixie Primary rally, in Montgomery. "There's no more conservative state than that." Kansas had held a caucus, with 29,697 Republicans assigning 40 delegates: Each delegate represented 742 voters.

There's absolutely nothing new here. The Santorum campaign, with nearly none of the advantages of other candidates, figured out early on where the wins and the delegates might be. As Molly Ball explains, the Romney campaign, despite a big head start, has taken its sweet time catching up. Romney's luck: Some of the rotten borough caucuses have been on his turf. He effectively cancelled out every Santorum delegate from Tuesday with caucus wins in American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Hawaii. Santorum doesn't get to play Barack Obama's game from 2008, when he won every caucus apart from Nevada and ran up a delegate lead in states/territories with few votes. So the only losers here, I guess, are the Republicans voting in competitive primaries, whose votes are diluted like Eduardo Severin's Facebook shares.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.